Tag Archives: Eamon De Valera

May 1919: Irish-American commission visits Ireland

In May 1919, the American Commission on Irish Independence arrived in Dublin. Before long, all hell broke loose in London and Paris.

The ACII was a non-government delegation of three prominent Irish-Americans formed in the wake of the February 1919 Irish Race Convention in Philadelphia. The trio of labor lawyer Frank P. Walsh; former Illinois Gov. Edward F. Dunne; and Philadelphia city solicitor Michael J. Ryan were sent to the post-war Paris peace conference to obtain safe passage for Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Noble Plunkett; plead the Irish cause on their behalf if such travel was denied; and secure U.S. government recognition of the Irish republic.

“The commission thought a trip to Ireland was a good idea, for it allowed them an opportunity to meet and talk with the [Irish] leaders elected in December 1918,” historian Francis Carroll wrote.1 In their public comments, the three Americans congratulated the Irish people for voting to create an independent Irish republic; emphasized the parallels between Ireland’s and America’s struggle for independence against the British; and reminded U.S. President Woodrow Wilson of his pledges for the self-determination of small nations in Europe. “They pulled no punches.”

Dunne, Ryan and Walsh of the Irish-American Commission receiving an address written in Irish from Cumann na mBan Photo: Irish Life, 16 May 1919. From the National Library of Ireland collection, via Century Ireland.

Unsurprisingly, there was “immediate and explosive” press reaction in Britain. The Globe headlined: “IMPUDENT YANKS FLAUNTING ‘IRISH REPUBLIC’ BEFORE OUR EYES“. The Mail said the Irish Americans gave “strength and countenance” to the rebel faction in Ireland.2

“The public debate in the newspapers and in parliament spelled the end of the commission’s prospects for getting the Irish leaders over to Paris,” Carroll continued. “What had prompted [Walsh, Dunne, and Ryan] to speak publicly in Ireland with complete disregard for the delicacy of the situation or the sensitivity of the British government is difficult to say. … Either their own weakness and inexperience, or the shrewdness of the British in perceiving that they would undo themselves, saved [Prime Minister] Lloyd George from having to come to grips with the Irish question at the peace conference.”3

In June 1919, de Valera would sail west to New York instead of east to Paris. The ACII returned to America, where they turned their efforts to help Ireland to the U.S. Senate.

Read coverage of the ACII’s travels in Ireland in The Irish Press, Philadelphia:

Also see:

Easter 1919: Rising remembered & rally for Republic

The Irish in America commemorated the third anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising with renewed intensity. It was the first Easter of the post-war era and came just three months after Irish republicans established their own government in Dublin. Three Irish Americans had just arrived in Paris to press U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and other world leaders to recognize Irish self determination. As with St. Patrick’s Day a month earlier, Easter 1919 was an opportunity to rally support for the cause. Here is a select roundup of activity across the USA as reported in the mainstream and Irish-American press. MH

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The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government in Dublin through editor Patrick McCartan, published an April 19, 1919, editorial headlined Recognition Week:

Easter week this year is to be commemorated in a very fitting way: not alone by ceremonials aimed merely to honor the names of those who died during and after that glorious week, but by a determined effort to  bring about the completion of the work for which they gave their all. … It is fitting therefore that Easter Week should be celebrated by demonstrations all over the United States demanding recognition of the existing Republic of Ireland. It is only by this step that justice … can be done to Ireland … The success of the demonstrations is a foregone conclusion, for Americans, whether of Irish blood or not, recognize the Irish Republic, and wish to see its elected government allowed to perform its functions without foreign interference.

At the Lexington Theater in New York City, the Friends of Irish Freedom/Clan na Gael passed resolutions supporting the Irish republic and demanding that Ireland’s delegates be admitted to the Paris peace conference. A cablegram was sent to the three-member American Commission for Irish Freedom assuring them of the support.1

Elsewhere:

  • In Buffalo, N.Y., Irish supporters distributed over 30,000 green, white, and orange buttons outside Catholic churches after Easter services.2
  • In Pittsburgh, a Protestant minister “criticized the failure of the peace conference to provide self-determination for Ireland, and asserted that without proper recognition of Ireland the peace would be a failure and there would be no league of nations.” The stage of the city’s Lyceum Theater, scene of earlier pro-Ireland rallies, “was handsomely set to represent the Emerald Isle and the Irish flag was conspicuously displayed” along with a picture of Rising martyr Padraic Pearse.3
  • In Butte, Montana, an Easter Sunday parade featured several bands, drum corps, and recently discharged U.S. soldiers. Others carried banners demanding the withdrawal of British troops from Ireland and the release of American political prisoners.4
  • The Unbroken Tradition, by Nora Connolly, was offered at a mail order discount price $1.25 per copy (normally $1.50) by New Appeal Book Department in Girard, Kansas.5 She was the daughter of martyred Rising leader James Connolly. “Her impressions were gathered at first hand and make thrilling reading,” the advert said. “In this book on gets the inside story of the sensational uprising for Irish freedom.” President Wilson banned the book when the United States entered the war in Europe. Today, it’s available online for $12.48.
  • Another “eyewitness” account of the Rising by Thomas F. Nolan dominated nearly the full April 19, 1919, front page of The Irish Standard in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Just three years ago the blood of Irishmen was put a tingling by the news of an Insurrection in Dublin,” Nolan began.
  • On Easter Monday, about 5,000 supporters gathered at the historic Boston Common passed a resolution “to commemorate the third anniversary of Ireland’s historic Easter Week, congratulate the Irish people upon the establishment of a republic form of Government in Ireland, and we pledge them our continued support and cooperation in their endeavor to secure recognition for that republic.”6

In June, Irish leader Éamon de Valera arrived in the United States, creating new opportunities for the Irish in America to stage massive rallies on behalf of the homeland.

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See my 2016 posts on the Rising centenary and ongoing American Reporting of Irish Independence series.

Aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin.

Guest post: A touching surprise at The Mansion House

My good friend Sister Cathy Cahill, OSF, a Florida-based retreat leader and spiritual director, is a frequent visitor to Ireland. My only regret is that she and I haven’t been in the country at the same time. This is her third guest post for the blog. MH

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Although I’ve been in Dublin many times since my first visit in 1986, I’ve just made my first time to The Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. For two days the mansion, built in 1710, was open to the public with an exhibit commemorating the 1916 Easter Uprising as well as the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in 1919. The latter took place in the mansion’s Round Room.

The history and importance of the building is enough to hold the interest of anyone interested in Irish history. Meeting Lord Mayor Nial Ring was an honor. But what really touched my heart was a plaque in the Entrance Hall. It reads:

Once again I was moved by the story of the Choctaws giving generously from their meager resources to assist the Irish people during the Great Famine in 1847. I was reminded of the Choctaw Nation sculpture I saw in County Cork shortly after its 2017 dedication. The striking sculpture of feathers pays tribute to the humanity of the Choctaw people who reached out beyond their own needs to respond in compassion to the suffering of others.

Shortly after the Mansion House plaque was installed, a group of Hiberians and other Irish joined in a march retracing of the Trail of Tears, the name of the forced migration of the Choctaw people from the Deep South to Oklahoma. It was a show of empathy and solidarity. The Choctaw tribe made Ireland’s then President Mary Robinson an honorary chief. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visited the Choctaws last year, offering scholarships for study in Ireland.

Dev in 1919.

This year also marks the centenary of Éamon de Valera’s visit to the Chippewa reservation in Wisconsin. The American-born president of Ireland’s fledgling revolutionary government was made an honorary tribal leader. “Dev” accepted a ceremonial head dress and posed in his suit for a famous photo.

“We, like you, are a people who have suffered and I feel for you with a sympathy that comes only from one who can understand as we Irishmen can,” de Valera told the Native Americans.

Goodness and generosity are human traits that give me hope. I was delighted to see them commemorated in such a grand place as The Mansion House.

March 1919: First interviews with escapee Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera and two other Sinn Féin revolutionaries escaped from Lincoln Gaol (prison) in England on Feb. 4, 1919. The Irish republican leader was spirited back to Ireland on Feb. 20, where he balanced the need to evade British authorities with the desire to communicate with the Irish people, including the diaspora in America, which he knew was critical to support for the fledgling republic.

American journalist Ralph F. Couch, a United Press correspondent, claimed he “found” de Valera, or was provided the opportunity to interview the escapee. The reporter was taken on a two-hour, late-night drive on winding country roads near Dublin, pushed into a second car, his cap pulled over his eyes, before finally being ushered up a stairway and let into a room.

“Before the great fireplace, warming his hands, was a tall man in a baggy black suit, with a black silk handkerchief around his throat instead of a collar. He wore rubber sole slippers. This was de Valera,” Couch reported.1

Couch obtained a signed statement from de Valera, smuggled it out of Ireland, and returned to the United States, “thus insuring safe delivery to New York of his information without interference by the censors,” United Press reported. The Feb. 24 interview was not published until the middle of March.

In addition to appearing in mainstream U.S. dailies, the interview was published on the front page of the March 15 issue of The Irish Press, Philadelphia, which had direct ties to the revolutionary government.

DE VALERA INTERVIEWED IN HIDING

Secret Meeting With Newspaper Correspondent Near Dublin.

Issues Message to America

“Violence will be the only alternative remaining to Irish Patriots if the Peace Conference at Paris fails to take steps to extend self-determination to Ireland. The means continued revolution until Ireland’s rights are recognized,” de Valera said in the interview, now two months after the first meeting of Dáil Éireann, parliament of the provisional republic, and early skirmishes of the Irish War of Independence.

The story noted that de Valera was the “American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.” Some versions say that de Valera’s “black eyes flashed” when he spoke the quote above, “his big jaw squared. He spoke quietly. Nevertheless he was emphatic.” 

Eamon de Valera during his 1919 tour of America.

De Valera’s Feb. 25 statement to Couch was datelined “Somewhere in Ireland.” It began:

“England has no right in Ireland. England’s de facto government here rests solely on the number of her bayonets. We challenge England to allow Ireland the principal of self-determination.”

On March 27, de valera arrived at Mansion House in Dublin, where he was received by the Lord Mayor. The Associated Press reported “that owing to the attitude of the censors [de Valera said] it would be useless to make a statement at present, but that he would take the opportunity later to express his views.”2

Within days, an interview by Henry Hyde of the Chicago Tribune was syndicated in U.S. newspapers. “I had an interview with de Valera shortly before he entered Dublin,” it began. “Up to a certain point he proved a very mild and constitutional rebel with his eyes fixed on Paris.”3

Another Chicago correspondent, Ruth Russell of the Daily News, also interviewed de Valera in late March.

“In a small white room where reddish tapestry and draperies concealed closed doors and shaded windows … the tall, pale man, 37 years of age, stood against the glow of a grate fire and spoke with a student’s concentration. He was slightly breathless, as he had just arrived and was about to leave again. His white silk muffler was still pinned with a bar about his throat.”4

The reporter promised that soon “de Valera will let himself be seen in Dublin.” On April 1, he was named president of the second Dáil Éireann. In June, he sailed secretly to America to begin a campaign for political recognition and funding for Ireland.

‘Irish American’ publisher’s Irish-American story

Kentucky Irish American Publisher William M. Higgins served on the official committee that Oct. 10, 1919, welcomed Irish President Eamon de Valera to Louisville.1 The city’s enthusiastic reception for the rebel leader demonstrated the “feelings of the American people who know and appreciate the blessings of freedom with the people of Ireland who are striving to obtain the same boon,” his newspaper editorialized a week later.2

Higgins and de Valera shared more than their desire for an independent Ireland. By coincidence, the 67-year-old host and the 37-year-old guest were both natives of New York State, some 700 miles away. In later years, de Valera’s American birth to an Irish mother and Spanish father prompted hostile challenges about his Irishness. Higgins, the son of Great Famine immigrants, easily balanced both sides of his hyphenated heritage.

Obituary image in The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.), June 10, 1925.

He was a devout Catholic, active in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and “an ardent advocate of freedom for Ireland,”3 He also was president of printers’ union local and “one of the sponsors and chief boosters of the Amateur Baseball Federation.”4

Higgins was a husband and the father of eight children. He attended the weddings of two of his three daughters; and the funerals of two of his five sons; one who died by drowning; the other by self-inflicted gunshot, whether intentional or accidental is unclear.5

Saint Louis Cemetery, Louisville, Ky.

Higgins dropped dead in his newsroom, age 72, in 1925. It was shortly after creation of the Irish Free State, partition of the island, and end of Ireland’s civil war. The Irish American had turned more of its coverage to local issues.

“Louisville lost a real citizen, a man who always stood up for what he thought was right,” one rival newspaper said of Higgins. “While he was not a native, he practically grew up with the town,” another local columnist said. 6

Immigrant parents

Hugh Higgins, William’s father, emigrated to America from Rivertown, County Sligo in 1848.7 His mother, Mary, departed from Drumlace, County Leitrim, in 1849, “the year when the tide of immigration from Ireland brought thousands of her good, Christian kind to build up this country,” the Syracuse Catholic Sun said in an obituary re-published on the front page of her son’s then year-old newspaper.8

From 1848 to 1855, over 5,000 Irish immigrants settled in Upstate New York’s Onondaga County; about 40 percent in Syracuse.9 William’s parents married in Auburn, New York, about 25 miles east of Syracuse, where they settled.10 He grew up hearing first-hand accounts of the Famine, and the stories of earlier Irish immigrants who dug the nearby Erie Canal, opened in 1825 and enlarged during his boyhood.

Nine of 50 people listed on the 1870 census page showing the Higgins family were born in Ireland, and many of those born in America had immigrant parents.11 The census form indicates only whether each person’s mother and father was foreign born, but not the country, as recorded in later editions of the decennial count.

Louisville move

By 1880, 28-year-old Higgins lived at 289 Seventh St. in Louisville. He was married to Mary; with then 2-year-old, and 2-month old, sons, the children he later buried.12 It is unclear why he moved south; perhaps he or his New York-born wife had family in Louisville.

Higgins also might have relocated to further his career as a printer, which began in Syracuse. In Louisville, he worked in the composing room of The Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. He also became president of the Typographical Union No. 10.13

Louisville experienced a “second wave” of Irish immigration during the 1880s.14 As a newspaperman, Higgins would have been aware of Charles Stewart Parnell’s Feb. 19, 1880, visit to Louisville. The Irish MP lectured at Liederkranz Hall “for the benefit of the Irish relief fund.”15 Perhaps Higgins joined the local branch of the American Land League.16

Parnell

Parnell arrived the day after visiting the capitol at Frankfort, where it was said “Kentucky is the Ireland of America”; not for being oppressed, but because of the “genial, hearty good nature, the hospitality, the love of fair-play, the pluck and courage” of its people. He was welcomed to Louisville as “a city that always greets with open arms, without regards to politics or opinions, every honest man who loves and serves as country.” 17

Thirty-eight years later, the example probably influenced the welcome that Higgins and other Irish Americans in Louisville extended to Eamon de Valera. By then, he was the established publisher of the Kentucky Irish American for 20 years.

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More on Louisville’s Irish community and the Kentucky Irish American’s coverage of the Irish War of Independence in a future post. Project home page.

December 1918: U.S. Press on Sinn Féin Win

This is the final post in a series exploring December 1918 events that became a turning point in the struggle for Irish independence. (Earlier posts are linked at bottom.) In Ireland, the republican Sinn Féin party routed the 19th century nationalist party in the first parliamentary general election since 1910. This set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, which began in January 1919. In America, Irish immigrants and their first-generation offspring submitted hundreds of letters and petitions, and held public rallies, to pressure the U.S. government to support Irish freedom. A U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing highlighted their effortsMH

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First reports of the Sinn Féin victory in the Dec. 14, 1918, British parliamentary election reached large American newspapers the next day. The official election count was delayed until Dec. 28, so that outstanding votes from soldiers still serving overseas could be included in the final tally. Early U.S. press coverage of the election faded by Christmas, then resumed in the final days of 1918. Election coverage in the weekly Irish-American press generally did not begin until the January 1919 issues.

Below are samples of the early coverage in U.S. dailies, with additional context provided after some of the selections. A few editorial passages are included toward the bottom:

“A Dublin dispatch says the Irish Times predicts the Sinn Féin will win at least 60 seats in the present election and will be invited to sit at Westminster and vote with the British labor party in return for the labor parties support of home rule. The Irish Times says the Sinn Féin may accept this offer because of its policy of keeping away from Westminster must injure important Irish interests and soon become highly unpopular.”–Dec. 13 “special cable” from the London Times (via Public Ledger Co.), published in the Dec. 14 issue of The Washington Post, page 1.

Sinn Féin won 73 of 105 contested seats, but four of its candidates were elected in two constituencies, thus 69 individuals. The party did not take its seats at Westminster.

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“Reports from Ireland say the Sinn Féin is believed to have swept the country. In Ireland also the keenness of the women voters was noteworthy.”–Dec. 14 London dispatch from The New York Times, published in the Dec. 15 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, page 1.

The British parliament extended the vote to women age 30 or older, householders, and university graduates, earlier in the year. The Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) won seven of 57 contested seats.

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“Polling in the greater part of Ireland passed quietly except for minor collisions between Sinn Féiners and [IPP] Nationalists. A close analysis of the voting shows that the Nationalists have been hopelessly beaten by the Sinn Féin, even in places supposed to be Nationalist strongholds.”–Dec. 14 London dispatch from the Associated Press, published in the Dec. 15 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, page 2.

Election-related “violence was worst not between nationalists and unionists but between rival nationalists of Sinn Féin and the IPP,” historian John Dorney writes in The Irish Story.

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“The defeat of John Dillon, the Irish Nationalist leader, in East Mayo is anticipated when the final count is completed. The Sinn Féiners polled a heavy vote in the county and city of Dublin and Cork. In Northwest Ulster the Sinn Féiners will carry the City of Derry, three seats in Donegal, and South Fermanagh and Northwest Tyrone. The Unionists expect to retain all their seats in the North. Joseph Devlin, Nationalist for West Belfast, has been re-elected by several thousand vote.”–Dec. 15 Belfast dispatch from The New York Times, published in the Dec. 16 issue of the Times, page 1.

Dillon was defeated by Éamon de Valera and replaced by Devlin as leader of the diminished IPP. Devlin defeated de Valera in the other constituency.

Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, left, and (Irish Party leader John Dillon addressed the May 1918 anti-conscription rally in Ballaghderreen, County Roscommon. RTÉ Archives

“The broad features of the election results announced today are the sweeping triumph of the Lloyd George coalition, the complete route of the Asquithians, the pacifists and the women candidates and, perhaps most significant of all, the victory of the Sinn Féiners all along the line.”–Dec. 28 dispatch by the Associated Press, published in the Dec. 29 issue of The Washington Post, page 1.

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Markievicz

“Of 14 women candidates, only one will be entitled to sit in the House of Commons, namely, a Sinn Féiner, Countess Markievicz, who was elected for St. Patrick’s Division of Dublin city. But, as the Sinn Féiners refuse to sit at Westminster, the House of Commons will, as hitherto, be composed entirely of males.”–Dec. 28 London dispatch from The New York Times, published in the Dec. 29 issue of the Times, page 1.

EDITORIALS

“The sweeping Sinn Féin victory is a plain referendum for revolution. … It seems impossible to contemplate the success of a revolution for the independence of 4 million people against a nation of 45 million people only 25 miles away. Yet is it possible in these days for a civilized nation to be ruled by naked force? … The situation in Ireland is an international scandal. The British government has entangled itself, and that government must find a way out. Championship of ‘the rights of small nations’ properly begins within one’s own political household. … Friends of Ireland and of England are loath to believe that there can be a repetition of the bloody scenes of the Easter revolution. But if there should be, it would not be Ireland that a watching world would blame.”The Boston Globe, Dec. 30, 1918, page 8.

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“Apparently the Sinn Féin is going to establish Irish independence without waiting for the peace conference or action by parliament. There will be the same old trouble–Ulster doesn’t want to be independent.”-The Decatur (Illinois) Herald, Dec. 29, page 6.

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“The winning party has new ideas, new methods, a different ruling spirit. … What Parnell demanded England has conceded to Canada, to Australia, to South Africa, and could concede to Ireland without danger to herself. What the Sinn Féiners demand could not and cannot concede while self-defense is the first law of nature. Hence the movement is either Quixotic, or abortive, or both; probably both. Yet it contributes a new feature to the drama of British politics, and a new feature to the troubled history of Ireland.”The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 30, page 6.

Previous posts in this series:

Ballot & Bullet: Remembering Dev and Danny Boy

Two July 1917 events in the west of Ireland shaped the county’s struggle for independence from Britain. A century later, however, both seem to have be mostly forgotten, prompting criticism from at least one historian.

The first and most significant event was the election of Sinn Féin candidate Éamon de Valera in County Clare. The by-election was called to fill the seat left vacant when Irish Parliamentary Party member Willie Redmond was killed in World War I. The IPP represented the late 19th century effort to secure limited domestic autonomy for Ireland, called home rule. de Valera, one of the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising who was released from prison in June 1917, belonged to the new generation of Irish republicans seeking a clean break from Britain, even if it required violence ahead of politics.

As John Dorney explains on The Irish Story website:

His victory marked a decisive breakthrough for the Sinn Féin party and the beginning of the eclipse of the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The following year, 1918, Sinn Féin, headed by de Valera, won a crushing victory in a general election and early the following year, declared independence, leading the Irish War of Independence.

The post also features Dorney’s 35-minute podcast interview with Clare historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, who details the election and sets the context for this period between the Rising and the War. It’s a great listen.

O Ruairc raises the second event toward the end of the interview. While celebrating Dev’s victory in Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, local man Daniel Scanlon was shot and killed by an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Scanlon belonged to the Irish Volunteers, at the time transitioning to the Irish Republican Army. O Ruairc describes Scanlon’s death as one of the first of the War of Independence. (Read an account in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of William McCabe, page 3.)

The 100th anniversary of Scanlon’s death and Dev’s election appear to have been largely ignored by the Irish government and media. The historian complains:

We hear a lot talk from politicians about how important this period of our history is commemorated … As far as I can see the 100th anniversary of this guy’s death was not commemorated.  … This period of history is passing us by because the government’s official Decade of Centenaries [1912-1922] was disbanded after the last election a year ago, after the big 2016 centenaries. … It’s an indictment of the Decade of Centenaries that it was four years long; we went from 1912 to 1916 and then we stopped. I think what we are going to see for the rest of the Decade of Centenaries is that stuff that happened outside Dublin is not [considered] important. … It will be left to the people that always commemorate it, local historians, relatives, with not much state support behind it.

In fairness, the official Decade of Centenaries website does note de Valera’s by-election win in its 1917 timeline. He is hardly forgotten in Ireland, given the large role he played as the 26 counties became the Irish Free State and eventually the Republic. By 1963, the elder statesman was still on the scene to welcome John F. Kennedy to Ireland.

Scanlon, who was 24 in 1917, is easier lost in the Irish revolutionary period. The RIC officer charged with his death was soon acquitted. It also should be remembered that Scanlon’s death came 15 months after another Ballybunion native, Patrick Shortis, 26, was killed during the Rising in Dublin.

Both of these rebel deaths catch my attention since my grandfather emigrated in 1913, at age 19, from the same village. He joined several cousins and other North Kerry immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city’s daily newspapers carried numerous stories about de Valera’s victory, but not a word of Scanlon’s death that I can locate.

Both Shortis and Scanlon are remembered with small plaques on the sides of buildings in Ballybunion. A bronze statue of de Valera stands outside the courthouse in Ennis, Co. Clare, where his 71 percent to 29 percent ballot victory was tabulated a century ago.

The level of attention generated by last year’s 1916 centenary events would be hard to sustain over a decade. Through the end of 2018, there will continue to be more focus on the events of World War I. But O Ruairc has a point about the general decline of interest in historical events from the period between the Rising the start of the War of Independence.

The memorial to Daniel Scanlon in Ballybunion.

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.

Irish history professor Ronan Fanning dies

Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, died 18 January at age 75.

In 2015, Fanning published A Will to Power, a biography of Éamon de Valera, one of the most complicated and controversial figures of Irish revolutionary history. His Introduction included this anecdote:

By a strange coincidence my father died on the same day as Éamon de Valera, 29 August 1975, some hours before him. He was buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, again on the same day, less than one hundred yards away from where de Valera was buried an hour later in the republican plot. I was reminded on that morning that de Valera would remain as divisive a figure in death as in life. A family friend, who knew that my father was never an admirer of de Valera … said to me at his graveside as the undertaker was hurrying us out to make way for the state funeral, ‘What’s the first thing your father will say to St. Peter when he sees him? “There’s another Irishman, a long fellow, coming up after me and he’ll cause havoc if you let him in!”

Ronan Fanning is to be cremated at Glasnevin. Below, he speaks about British policy in Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Irish Ambassador reflects on 1916 centennial in U.S.

When Anne Anderson became Irish Ambassador to the U.S. in 2013, planning for the 1916 Easter Rising centennial commemoration in America was one of her early diplomatic duties.

“We knew 1916 would have huge resonance in the U.S., more than anywhere outside of Ireland,” Anderson told a 15 December Irish Network D.C. audience. “The road to the Rising and its aftermath have very big connections to Irish America.”

Ambassador Anne Anderson, left, interviewed by Fionnuala Sweeney of The Cipher Brief.

The Embassy faced several challenges, such as teaching a new generation of Irish Americans about an event more familiar to their parents and grandparents, and also reaching beyond the 30 million U.S. residents of Irish heritage, “not just those already part of the family,” Anderson said.

Cultural events, such as the three-week “Ireland 100” festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were blended with more historically-focused examinations. The Embassy tracked more than 300 events across the U.S. “that we knew about,” Anderson said, including many “absolutely organic, grassroots” 1916 gatherings outside big Irish hubs such as New York and Boston.

“People were motivated by a sense of joy in their Irishness,” Anderson said. “The brand that Ireland has is extraordinarily positive.”

In the U.S., as in Ireland, the 1916 centennial commemoration required sensitivity to British and unionist perspectives, Anderson said. There were no attempts to “airbrush history.”

This year’s experiences will inform future commemorations as Ireland and Irish America move through the “Decade of Centenaries,” which extends until 2022, and includes the 100th anniversaries of the War of Independence and partition of the island.

“We are looking at what is most significant in the U.S.,” Anderson said, such as Eamon de Valera’s 1919-1920 fundraising tour in America. “But we always felt the biggest year in America would be 1916 (2016).”