Tag Archives: County Kerry

A letter from troubled Kerry, January 1921

On Jan. 24, 1921, widowed farmer John Ware of Killelton townland, Ballylongford, mailed a hand-written letter from the rural County Kerry community on the south shore of where the wide mouth of the River Shannon empties into the sea. It was addressed to his same-name, bachelor son, a streetcar motorman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a noisy, smokey manufacturing city of more than a half million people, a hub of Irish immigrants, including two of his sisters, with a brother on the way.1

The 87-year-old father2 began the letter by thanking his 35-year-old son for an earlier postal order for £3, equivalent to about $200 today.3 Such remittances from immigrants were vital to the Irish economy and perpetuated still more departures.

Your prosperity in America is a great consolation to me. Your generosity and kindness since you left home.

John Ware of Pittsburgh in World War I military uniform.

John Ware the younger left home in 1910. Sisters Nora4 and Bridget followed him to Pittsburgh in 1912 and 1916, respectively. He was naturalized in 1917, entered the U.S. Army as as private in April 1918, and shipped to France two months later. John survived the Great War and returned to Pittsburgh in February 1919.5

The father reported that another son in Ireland had just welcomed a baby girl to his family three weeks earlier. A third son had sailed from Queenstown four days before he wrote the letter, also destined for Pittsburgh.

We all felt so happy he [was] able to get away giving to the present state of the country. That state of the case in Ireland at present is very bad.

War in Ireland

Ireland was in turmoil in January 1921. Two years had passed since Irish separatists established the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin. The Irish Republican Army’s guerrilla war against British authority, typically followed by military and police reprisals, had escalated steadily since summer 1920.

There was a policeman shot in Listowel a week ago. There is a fear there will be great damage done the town of Listowel through envy.

D.I. Tobias O’Sullivan

District Inspector Tobias O’Sullivan was shot multiple times at close range mid-afternoon Jan. 20, 1921. He was only a few yards from the Listowel barracks. The victim was accompanied by his 5-year-old son.6

In Pittsburgh, John Ware may have read the next-day, front-page newspaper coverage of the O’Sullivan killing,7 which occurred about eight miles from his father in Killelton, Ballylongford. The city’s papers reported several of the shootings and fires deliberately set to houses, creameries, and other businesses that occurred in North Kerry since fall 1920,8 one episode only a few weeks earlier:

At Listowel, in the marshal law area, crown forces  were fired on by civilians while arresting men wanted. They returned the fire, killing one and wounding two who were captured and sent to a hospital. Five arrests were made.9

The most notorious event in the area, however, flared a month after John Ware’s letter, on Feb. 22, 1921, when two constables were ambushed and killed at Ballylongford, followed by retaliation from the authorities:

In the history of reprisals no place has proportionally been visited with such wholesale destruction as the prosperous little town of Ballylongford. What was one time the business center of North Kerry, the wealthiest district in the county because of its port … is now little more than a smoking ruin. … The houses remaining are shattered and the people occupying them are confined indoors. Those whose places were destroyed and who fled in terror in the dead of night with no notice save the discharge of rifle, revolver, and machine-gun fire,  the rattle of petrol tins and crackling of flames found refuge with their country friends and are afraid to return.10

These and other episodes of violence against civilians, but not IRA attacks on military and police, were cataloged by the Dáil in a document titled “The Struggle of the Irish People,” presented in May 1921 to the U.S. Senate.11 A century later, the burning of Ballylongford “has still not been forgotten locally.”12

Agricultural distress

War violence was not the only trouble John Ware mentioned in his letter from Kerry:

The past year in the country is the worst that was ever remembered. The most of the year was all raining, the farm produce was never before so bad.

Farming in Kerry in the early 1920s.

His assessment is confirmed in Kerry newspapers of autumn 1920, which reported the impacts of a “late spring” and “continuous wet weather” that created a “black outlook not only for the farmers but for the people in the towns as well.”13 Government reports also recognized the decline in agricultural activity that year, though quantifying it was complicated by the war and relied on estimates and summaries. “In 1920 it was not found practicable to obtain particulars of either crops or livestock on all farms.”14

John Ware in Kerry did not mention his two daughters in Pittsburgh, who worked as household servants and perhaps also sent remittances. He concluded the letter to his son with wishes for a Happy New Year, a year that would soon bring a truce to the fighting and end with the treaty that created the Irish Free State.

Guest post: The Fall of the Fitzmaurices

County Kerry native Kay Caball is a professional genealogist and author of the definitive Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry. (She has helped me.) Kay also wrote The Kerry Girls: Emigration and the Earl Grey Scheme, about the young women shipped to Australia in 1849/1850 from four of the county’s workhouses. Her new book is The Fall of the Fitzmaurices: The Demise of Kerry’s First Family, available through Kay’s My Kerry Ancenstors website, and O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick. Kay provided this overview of the story. MH

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Ennobled as the 1st Earl of Kerry in 1723, Thomas Fitzmaurice, 21st Lord of Kerry, Baron of Lixnaw  and his wife, the former Lady Anne Petty, presided over great estates in Kerry and elsewhere. They and their family enjoyed prestige, influence and immense wealth. Within 100 years their land was gone, the Fitzmaurice earldom was no more. 

So what could have happened to this Kerry dynasty after almost 500 years of acquisition and expansion, which was then so reduced  in such a short space of time? We would have to say improvidence, extravagance, careless management, and improvidence.

Thomas, 21st lord, inaugurated a span of lavish spending; the main result of his expenditure on the ancestral seat of Old Court was a magnificent demesne and a well-appointed house run on a grand scale. His raised status as an earl in 1723 would appear to have spurred him to take on all the trappings expected of the title. He purchased and furnished a Dublin home in the prime fashionable area of St Stephen’s Green,1 while continuing to improve and develop his Kerry estates. His three daughters, Anne, Arbella, and Charlotte, made good if not spectacular marriages: each into new families with generous dowries. His sons, William and John, enjoyed exclusive educations at Westminster School and at the University of Oxford.

Thomas’ eldest son and heir, William, was not the wisest of men. After his father’s death in 1741, William became 2nd earl, and was head of the family fortunes and estate for just over six years. 

William was involved in a number of expensive court cases and family settlements, the most spectacular of which arose from his dalliance with a mistress that led to a scandal of epic proportions in the exclusive aristocratic circles of 18th century Dublin. Elizabeth Leeson, his mistress of two years, declared they were married, and though neither Church nor state had been involved in any nuptials, the courts decided there had been a valid marriage, and he was ordered to proceed with a Church ceremony or be excommunicated. William does not appear to have followed up with the Church ceremony, but Elizabeth, now titled Lady Elizabeth Fitzmaurice, conveniently died three years later. William then married the daughter of the earl of Cavan, against his father’s wishes.

So we come to Francis, who became the 3rd earl of Kerry in 1747 on the death of his father.  Francis was not then seven years of age. His mother initially became his guardian, but when she remarried and moved to England three years later, he became a ward in Chancery, and was left in the care of a tutor and servants. The Old Court estate and demesne in Kerry were closed up and allowed to deteriorate. Incompetent agents were responsible for managing and collecting the land rents. Francis, although left to fend for himself, had a good tutor, and he attended and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin at the age of 15, but afterwards led a lazy and indulgent life. To compound matters, he got involved with a married woman, Anastasia Daly, herself an heiress. Francis’ cousin, British Prime Minister William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 2nd earl of Shelburne and 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, said of Francis:

He fell in love with a married lady twenty years older than himself, the daughter of an eminent Roman Catholic lawyer, and she having obtained a divorce, married her – [she was] an extraordinarily vain person. Having to fight their way up into good society, and having no children, they sold every acre of land that had been in our family since Henry II’s time.2

Anastasia’s husband took an action against Francis Fitzmaurice, and there followed a sensational court case which revealed lurid and explicit descriptions of their sexual encounters. The aggrieved husband was awarded £5,000 compensation for the loss of the company of his wife. This would be over €974,235 in 2019,3 and resulted in the commencement of the large-scale sale of land and assets from the Fitzmaurice Lixnaw estates. Soon after, a divorce was granted by the Westminster Parliament, and Francis and Anastasia married in England in 1768. Initially, they settled in London, where they furnished three large houses lavishly within the space of 10 years, before moving to Paris in 1778. Even though Anastasia, now Countess of Kerry, had the pleasure of being presented at court, the couple were not given the recognition they felt they were due as part of the respected old Norman Irish nobility. Although they moved in aristocratic circles, British society at that time was conservative and rigid, and the young Protestant earl married to the older Irish Catholic divorcee, with a scandalous past, did not command the cream of invitations or acceptance into the milieu to which they aspired.

Their sojourn in Paris from 1771 to 1792 – where they lived extravagantly, dined, wined, entertained and shopped – came to an abrupt end when they had to flee during the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution. Francis and Anastasia were lucky to escape with their lives, but their servants were executed. 

Though they had to abandon their possessions in Paris, their papers – letters, bills, receipts, invitations – were saved, and this collection of eight boxes of documents is now housed in the Archives Nationales, Paris. Their extravagant spending had meant frequent letters home to the earl’s agent, solicitors and auctioneers with instructions to sell or unload land or leases at almost any cost to keep banks and creditors at bay, copies of which survive in Paris.

Back in London in 1795, Anastasia was to live for only four more years. She died in 1799 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where Francis erected a large monument to her. Francis died in 1818 and was buried with Anastasia. This, then, is the story of the fall of the Fitzmaurices, the premier family of Kerry for 583 years. 

Catching up with modern Ireland: October

Monument in Eyre Square, Galway city, marks JFK’s June 1963 visit. November 2018 photo.

In a few days (or weeks?) we should know whether Irish-American-Catholic Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidency, 60 years after the historic election of Irish-American-Catholic John F. Kennedy. A sentimental milestone for some (and eye roll for others), a Biden administration appears poised to pay close attention to the impact of Brexit on the Irish border and any U.S.-U.K trade deal, as well as visa and citizenship issues for Irish people in America. A Biden win would help take some of the sting from this year’s cancelled St. Patrick’s Day events on both sides of the Atlantic and the lost summer of tourism in Ireland. Let Trump rule his links at Doonbeg.

Here’s the October roundup:

  • On Oct. 22, the Republic of Ireland became the first European country to reimpose a nationwide lockdown following a surge in coronavirus cases. New quarantine rules apply until Dec. 1.
  • The five-year Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes report is to be finalized Oct. 30, though its public release date remains unclear. Expect a wave of damning coverage about how the Catholic Church and the State handled Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • “I continue to be amazed by the lack of knowledge or interest in the political and social affairs of both a part of the UK – the North – and also of our near neighbour – the Republic,” Conservative MP Simon Hoare wrote in a column for The Irish Times.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland began a three-month pilot program for new-look uniforms, but a proposal to drop the words “Northern Ireland” from the force’s official crest, replaced only with NI, was rejected, the Belfast Telegraph reported. PSNI was formed after the Good Friday Agreement as a more inclusive successor to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
  • “Sublime Chaos” is the headline of a short New Yorker piece about the “mystical Irish Dadaism” of Dublin composer Jennifer Walshe. “When I was younger, I wanted to run away from Irish identity, which at times can be so narrow and confining and politically problematic,” said Walshe, born in 1974. “But it’s part of me, and it belongs to everyone here.” (Thanks ADH.)
  • The Book of Lismore, created in the late 15th century, has been donated to University College Cork (UCC) after centuries in a British estate. This major medieval manuscript, created at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork, in a golden age of Irish literature, is considered as one of the Great Books of Ireland.

Three from Kerry:

  • Europe’s rarest fern has been discovered in Killarney. Stenogrammitis myosuroides, has only ever previously been found in the mountainous cloud forests of Jamaica, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, according to The Guardian. “Kerry mousetail” has been suggested as the common name for the plant.
  • A plant appears, an animal disappears: Fungie, the resident male, bottlenose dolphin that helped transform Dingle from a small fishing and farming community into a global tourist destination, has vanished after 37 years, The New York Times (with lovely photos) and other media reported.
  • Finally, there’s some anthropologic evidence that natives of the Kingdom are less susceptible to COVID-19, says Maynooth University’s Ciarán Walsh.

Alas, the annual November conference of the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland is cancelled due to COVID. See details of previous conferences. Best wishes to members and past participants.

See past monthy and annual roundups.

The grounds of the Belfast Botanic Gardens and Palm House. November 2019 photo.

Irish history movie ideas: the Lartigue monorail

This is the second post in an occasional series about aspects of Irish history that I believe provide strong cinematic opportunities if dramatized for narrative and commercial appeal. First post: The Colors of Ireland. Ideas and comments are welcome. Enjoy. MH

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Take a look at this 3:30-minute archival footage of the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a unique monorail that opened in 1888 between the two Co. Kerry towns. There’s no sound.

I’m not sure why the footage is dated 1931. The money-losing monorail was discontinued in October 1924 after being rejected for consideration in the Irish Free State’s railway nationalization scheme.

The train was known as the Lartigue, after its French inventor, Charles Lartigue. It was the subject of affectionate poems, as reflected in these opening stanzas published a few weeks after it closed:1

Farewell, old train, beloved train; at last
you’ve ceased to run!
Unlike all other trains we’ve seen, of
wheels you had only one.
You battled hard, ‘gainst might odds
for close on thirty years.
And now to think your race is run, it
almost brings us tears.

In its day, the Lartigue was easy fodder for humorous stories because of the way passengers and freight had to be balanced on each side of the pannier-style rolling stock. One tells of a farmer who bought a cow in Listowel and wanted it transported to Ballybunion. To do so, he had to borrow another cow to balance his purchase. At Ballybunion, he faced the predicament of returning the borrowed cow, which required the balance of another animal. And on and on; a running gag for the potential movie.

Passengers on the Lartigue also were occasionally required to get out to push the train. Some were said to get sickened by sitting sideways instead of facing forward. The train’s plodding pace inspired the story of the conductor who offered a ride to an old woman riding a donkey. “No thanks,” she replied, “I’m in a hurry today.”

I see the Lartigue as a perfect opportunity for the eccentricity and distinctive styles of directors Wes Anderson or the Coen brothers. It needs a quirky story with an ensemble of charming and oddball characters to match the unusual train.

As you can see, the front of the Lartigue locomotive is more anthropomorphic the most regular trains. Perhaps this could be an animated film?

See my earlier posts about the Lartigue:

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

The Ireland that fills my heart

With more than 11 million annual visitors kept home by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Ireland has released a short video to remind prospective travelers they “can still dream of future holidays and adventures.” The campaign, titled I will return: Fill your heart with Ireland,” arrives at the 20th anniversary of my first visit in May 2000.

And that recalls my dearest experience of Ireland.

At Dublin Airport, I handed my new Irish/E.U. passport to the customs agent, having obtained citizenship through foreign birth registration. He waved me into the country without question. Then, as I waited for my luggage, I thought I heard my name called on the public address system.

“That couldn’t be me,” I thought. “Nobody knows me here.”

I took a taxi to my bed and breakfast in Portmarnock. The room wasn’t ready, but the innkeeper secured my suitcase and I took a mid-morning walk on the nearby strand.

When I returned, my host answered a telephone call.

“Yes, he is here,” he said.

It was for me.

Eithne

The voice at the other end of the line–and it was still a line–belonged to a woman in her 60s, a retired school teacher, the unmarried daughter of a North Kerry man. His brother was my mother’s father, who emigrated shortly before the Easter Rising.

My grandfather married a North Kerry women in Pittsburgh, where several of their siblings and other relations also lived. Because of these connections to Ireland, deepened by the citizenship through decent process, I shared my travel itinerary with my mother. She passed the details to her sister, who maintained regular contact with the woman on the phone, the one who had me paged at Dublin Airport. Her name was Eithne.

My plans to meet the Irish relations were unformed, something to be figured out during the trip, if any of them even cared to meet me. A holy trinity of Irish and Irish-American women assured those introductions. My plans changed within an hour of my arrival. Eithne insisted that I lodge with her.

The B&B host graciously released me from my booking. Eithne’s Jack Russell Terrier, named Beano, sniffed me suspiciously, but deigned that I enter the house on Griffith Avenue, Dublin, near Corpus Christi Catholic Church. I was very welcome in Ireland.

***

In the 50-second “I will return” video, edited from earlier campaigns, only a few people are seen among the verdant landscapes and historic sites; mostly from behind, all of them individually, none in groups. A few turn to the camera and motion as if to say “come over here,” suggesting an unseen companion outside the view and a metaphor of the “return to Ireland” dream theme of the promotional work. Like them, I have enjoyed solitary walks along Ireland’s “wandering lanes, and rugged cliffs, her fields laced with streams”, as the narrator intones. Conspicuous by its absence, however, are scenes of people-packed pubs and festivals. 

Over the last two months, relations and friends on both sides of the Irish border have shared their quarantine stories with me. Long term, I can’t imagine a socially-distanced Ireland. I want to be crowded around a Galway city busker, surrounded at an Abbey intermission, bumped into by other bookstore browsers, elbowed by relations around a kitchen table.

The “I will return” narrator is confident of being “welcomed in at every turn, into her kind embrace,” the pronoun a reference to Ireland at large. That welcome does not come from solitary exploration of unpopulated landscapes, lovely as they are. The Céad Míle Fáilte, the hundred thousand welcomes, comes from the Irish people. 

Before she died in 2016, Eithne introduced me to dozens of relations. I have enjoyed spending time with them during nine more visits to Ireland, three with my wife, whom I had not yet met in 2000. I’ve added new friends and professional contacts on my own. And I’ve enjoyed random encounters with farmers and merchants, archivists and waitresses, and many others working in the island’s important tourism industry. 

Collectively, they are the Ireland that fills my heart. It is to them I will return, to once again hear my name called in welcome.

Irish & American connections, before & during pandemic

In February, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, I received a telephone call at my Washington, D.C., office from Michael Larkin in County Mayo, Ireland. He found me through this blog, and reached me on my mobile device, which is so much more than a phone.

More on that in a moment.

Thomas Larkin eventually returned to Mayo.

It turned out that Michael and I share a connection to Pittsburgh, the city of my birth; the destination of my Kerry emigrant grandparents; and the place where his ancestor, Thomas Larkin, secured employment with the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania and became one of the early Telephone Pioneers of America. (Today–April 25–is National Telephone Day.)  

Michael, a health services professional, is the author of the 2019 book, Making the Right Connections. As he describes:

The book depicts the emigrant journey of Thomas Larkin, as well as themes relating to emigration, transatlantic connectivity, evolution of telecommunications, predictions made regarding the early telephones and an overview of the social history of Ireland and Irish America in the early 1900s.

While Thomas Larkin was just another Irish immigrant hoping to find employment of any kind in the USA, the words ‘connection’,  ‘connectedness’, etc., are particularly apt in the context of Irish American connectivity and also in the context of the early telephones, when the services of an operator were required to ‘make the connection’ in order for a telephone conversation to occur. 

“Believe me, the day will come when you will be able to ‘see’ the person who you are speaking to on the telephone”.

When Thomas Larkin uttered the above words, following his retirement from the Bell Telephone Company and return to a predominantly rural Ireland, they were greeted with suspicion and doubt. Perhaps if he could now ‘see’ the advances in telecommunications, or realize that some of his almost forgotten telephone memorabilia items illustrates and symbolizes Irish American connectivity in its many facets, he might simply say, “I told you so”. 

While my phone conversation with Michael was a “simple” voice connection, we just as easily could have seen each other across the Atlantic on Zoom, Skype or other digital platforms, which so many of us now use as we huddle in quarantine. I also connect with Michael, and with other friends and family in Ireland, via email and Twitter messages, sending words, images, and video in addition to voice. I can do it all on my “phone.”

Perhaps because of that incredible technology, and the extraordinary times we find ourselves living in, I am fond of the trove of my family’s hand-written letters between Ireland and Pittsburgh. The earliest date from the 1920s. The writers mention wars and sickness, economic hardships and other challenges. They also confirm good health, and share news of marriages, babies, graduations and other joys. We are often separated and unable to be with the each other, and yet always find ways to remain connected.

Making the Right Connections is available through Book Hub Publishing  and Mayo Books.

Many Irish Americans have found their ancestor’s name on these documents.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Outrages

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH

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Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages1

Guest published several consecutive stories about the republican Sinn Féin revolution. The activity he observed in Ireland, he wrote, “will prove something of a shock to many Americans who, by the purchase of Sinn Féin bonds,  gave moral as well as financial support to the so-called ‘war against English rule’ which is being waged on the turbulent island across the sea. But, as investors, they are entitled to know how the enterprise is being conducted.”

As examples, Guest detailed the Jan. 21 attack on Timothy T. Mangan of Killorglin, County Kerry, whose ears were cut off; and the Feb. 14 murder of 61-year-old Ellen Morris, near Enniscorthy, County Wexford; and other crimes during his two months in Ireland. Guest published an “unofficial list” of police statistics for “outrages charged to the Sinn Féin  movement” for the period Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, 1920, by province:

  • Munster………209
  • Leinster………..94
  • Connaught……47
  • Ulster……………22

“These figures will give a fair idea of how crime in Ireland is getting beyond all control of the authorities,” he wrote. “Emboldened by their success in eluding capture and by the way in which these outrages have been glorified in America, the perpetrators have grown more daring and more defiant.”

The 32 counties and four provinces of Ireland. Map image: Family Tree Magazine

Sinn Féin Attacks on Barracks Usually Made To Get Munitions2

“Although the Royal Irish Constabulary is as large as the police force of New York, is better armed and has the advantage of military training, it is unable to keep down crime among a population only two-thirds that of New York,” Guest began his fourth installment.3 He noted the lack of electric lighting in rural Ireland, which he had visited at the darkest time of the year.

Guest detailed the late January 1920 attack on the Murroe RIC barracks, eight miles north of Limerick city, near border with County Clare. 

“Barely a night passed while I was in Ireland that there was not either an attack on a police barracks, or the shooting down of a policeman, or a raid upon some farmer’s house for arms. And there were times when all three occurred in a single night.”

Big Rewards For Information In Irish Cases Goes Unclaimed4

This story described how Sinn Féin tampered with the mail system to gather intelligence and thwart the government’s efforts to pay citizens for information about attacks on police and the military. Further, Guest wrote:

The past six months have witnessed a widespread revival of the secret societies that flourished in the days of the Finians and before that time. … It is these secret societies which carry out the attacks upon police barracks, the raids for arms upon the homes of farmers; which burn haystacks or drive off or maim cattle; which terrorize families by firing shots through the windows of their homes; which hold up and bomb trains. Their word is law with the Irish people.

Scotland Yard Sleuths Fail to Identify Irish Rebels5

“One of the most popular forms of spreading terror among the peasantry in the south and west of Ireland is the posting of proclamations containing warnings and threats as to what will happen to persons who hold intercourse with the police or military,” Guest reported. He quoted one poster from the outskirts of Cooraclare, County Clare, which said that “traitors [should] be shunned as if they were fever stricken.” Other posters, often handwritten, were spotted in Ballyvaneen, Clare; Macroom and Michelston, County Cork; and Rearcross, County Tipperary.

Guest also reported that when Irish rebels or members of secret societies were arrested, their families received regular weekly payments “from some mysterious source.” Like the threatening posters, social boycotting, and nocturnal attacks on police and civilians reported in his earlier stories, such activity vividly recalls the Land War period of the 1880s.  

“Is there a link between the dreaded secret societies and Sinn Féin?,” Guest posed. “Dublin Castle says there is, but has offered no proof. If there is a link, it is well hidden. Personally, I was unable to find any connection. … Ireland is a hard place in which to prove anything.”

NEXT: ‘Dora’ Gives Sweeping Powers To British Rulers In Ireland

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Kerry LNG site.

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

Best of the Blog, 2019

Welcome to my seventh annual Best of the Blog–BOB. As always, I want to thank regular readers and new visitors for their support, including social media shares. Special thanks to my wife, Angie Drobnic Holan: editor, webmaster … my dear companion.

Back to Ireland …  

Inisheer, August 2019.

This year I made my ninth and tenth trips to the island of Ireland, traveling both times to the Republic and Northern Ireland. I’m starting this year’s BOB with a sampling of highlights from these 10 trips in just under 20 years:

May 2000: Pilgrimage to the Lahardane (Ballybunion) and Killelton (Ballylongford) townlands, North Kerry, birthplaces of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, respectively; and walked the Cobh waterfront where they emigrated in the early 20th century.

September/October 2001: Climbed Croagh Patrick … Interviewed surviving family at the Bloody Sunday Trust/Museum and watched testimony in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the Guild Hall, Derry. (Journalism fellowship from the German Marshall Fund.)

August 2007: (With Angie) Enchanted by the monastic ruins of Clonmacnoise (Offaly) and Glendalough (Wicklow). … Attended first play at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin: The Big House, by Lennox Robinson.

February 2009: Researched historic newspapers and census records at the National Library of Ireland and The National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, before they were digitized and made available online.

May/June 2012: (With Angie) Attended the Listowel Writers’ Week and heard Paul Durcan recite his poem “On the First Day of June” … on June 1, 2012 … at the Listowel Arms Hotel, the River Feale framed by the window at his back. … Strolled the Kinsale to Charles Fort (Cork) coastal walk, stopping for a lovely outdoor lunch.

July 2016: Toured the Falls/Shankill neighborhoods of Belfast by Black Taxi … Visited Titanic Belfast EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum … and Glasnevin Cemetary (Part 1Part 2), the last two in Dublin.

February 2018: Researched at the Michael Davitt Museum and grave (Straide, County Mayo); and read Davitt’s papers at Trinity College Dublin. (Part 1 & Part 2).

November 2018: Walked a muddy, cow-crowded road to reach Killone Abbey (Clare), following the footsteps of American journalist William Henry Hurlbert, who wrote of visiting the site in 1888.

July/August 2019: (With Angie) Cycled the Great Western Greenway from Achill Island to Westport (Mayo). … Hiked the circumference of Inisheer (Aran Islands, Galway) on my 60th birthday, and viewed the Cliff of Moher, which I had visited on my 2000 trip, from the sea.

November 2019: Presented my research about American journalist Ruth Russell’s 1919 travels to Ireland at the Institute of Irish Studies, Queens University Belfast for the Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland annual conference.

Here are 2019 photo essays from both sides of the border:

From an evening walk on Inisheer, August 2019.

A few more photo essays from Irish America:

Before morning Mass at Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago, March 2019.

1919, Revisited … 

This year I enjoyed exploring U.S. mainstream and Irish-American newspaper coverage of 1919 events in Irish history. Find all 32 stand-alone posts, plus the five-part monograph, Ruth Russell in Revolutionary Ireland, at my American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Other history highlights … 

… and guest posts

I am always grateful to the contributions of guest bloggers. This year:

The Antrim coast, July 2019.

Other news of note:

RIP Lyra McKee, journalist killed in Derry on April 19. She was 29, the same age as Ruth Russell when the American reporter arrived in Ireland in 1919. … U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi–first, second, and third in succession of power in the American government–each visited Ireland in 2019. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. … Republic of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry won the British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland, the first time since 1951 the Open has been held on the island of Ireland. … American businessman Edward F. Crawford became the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. …Abortion and same-sex marriage were decriminalized in Northern Ireland, in part due to the dormant Northern Ireland Assembly. … See more at my monthly roundups from 2019 and previous years of Best of the Blog.

Libraries and Archives

Special thanks for the in-person help I received at these institutions in 2019:

  • Catholic University of America, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, and Mullen Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Georgetown University, Lauinger Library, Washington, D.C.
  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • Arlington Public Library, Central Library, Arlington, Va., and the numerous libraries that made books available through the Interlibrary Loan program.
  • University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, Pittsburgh
  • Heinz History Center, Detre Library & Archives, Pittsburgh
  • The Archives of the Sister of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pa.
  • The Newberry, Chicago
  • Chicago Public Library, Herald Washington Library Center, Chicago
  • Queens University Belfast, McClay Library Special Collections, Belfast

And digital assistance from these institutions:

  • University College Dublin, Papers of Éamon de Valera (1882–1975), (Thanks again John Dorney of The Irish Story.)
  • National Library of Ireland, Patrick McCartan Papers (1912-1938)
  • University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, (Newspaper Collection), Springfield, Ill.
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main, Pennsylvania Dept. Collections
  • Villanova University, Falvey Memorial Library, Joseph McGarrity Collection, Philadelphia
  • University of Kentucky, Margaret King Library, Louisville
  • University of Louisville, Ekstrom Library
  • Louisville Free Public Library
  • The Filson Historical Society, Louisville
  • Library of Congress, Chronicling America
  • Newspapers.com
  • Irish Newspaper Archives

Thanks again to all the librarians, archivists, and readers. Keep visiting this “journalist’s blog dedicated to Irish and Irish-American history and contemporary issues.”

Visiting Ireland 2019: Best of the rest

From Westport, we drove through Connamara, then flew to Inisheer, smallest of the three Aran Island. On our return to the mainland, we made a short stop in Galway, then drove south to North Kerry, my grandparent’s homeland.

A stunning view in Connemara, south of Westport.

A road in Inis Oirr (Inisheer), with An Súnda Salach (Foul Sound) at right.

Buskars in the Latin Quarter, Galway city.

Looking west at late dusk from the sea cliffs at Ballybunion, in North Kerry, with 15th century castle ruin at right. The land in the distance is Loop Head Pinensula, County Clare.

This is my last post from the road. More photos and reporting from this visit will appear in future articles. Previous posts: