Tag Archives: George Mitchell

John Kerry receives Tipperary International Peace Award

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has received the 2015 Tipperary International Peace Award in recognition of his efforts to end conflicts in several global hot spots.

The south central Republic of Ireland town and county was internationally associated with war because of the song “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” according to a history of the organization. In 1983, the founding committee of the Tipperary Peace Convention felt it was time that Tipperary should be known for peace.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan address reporters at the Aherlow House Hotel in Tipperary.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan address reporters at the Aherlow House Hotel in Tipperary.

Kerry, who lost a 2004 bid for the U.S. presidency, joins past recipients such as former Irish President Mary McAleese; U.S. diplomat to Northern Ireland Richard Haas; Good Friday Agreement broker and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell; the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy; and Irish musician Bob Geldof.

In remarks, Kerry said Brexit must not impact the push for peace in Northern Ireland, and also announced the expansion of a one-year internship program for Irish J1 students in America, RTÉ reported.

Best of the Blog, 2015

This is my third annual “Best of the Blog” (BOB, as my wife calls it), a look at some of the most important news stories, historical anniversaries and personal favorite posts of the past year. The items are not numbered, so as to avoid the appearance of rank. Most links are to my own posts, but a few are to outside websites.

Enjoy. Thanks for supporting the blog. And Happy New Year!

  • Four years into the “Decade of Centenaries,” 2015 proved that even as Ireland remembers its past, Ireland is not bound by its past. This was most dramatically demonstrated in May as Irish voters enshrined same-sex marriage rights in the Republic’s constitution, becoming the world’s first nation to give such approval through popular referendum. The outcome prompted Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin to comment: “The Church needs a reality check right across the board, to look at the things we are doing well and look at the areas where we need to say, have we drifted away completely from young people?”
  • Other long-standing Irish institutions also changed in 2015. Clerys, a landmark department store on O’Connell Street in Dublin, closed in June after 162 years in business. … In August, Aer Lingus was acquired by British Airways owner IAG for €1.5 billion after nearly 80 years of state ownership.
  • The erosion of the Irish language continued at “a faster rate than was predicted” by a 2007 study and “demands urgent intervention,” a government agency reported in an update this year.
  • 2015 was the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats. His poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” was celebrated during the year. And, of course, “Easter, 1916.”
  • The Republic’s official remembrance of the Easter Rising began in August with a commemorative re-enactment of the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The original Dublin funeral of the Fenian leader, who died in New York, set the stage for the Rising eight months later. Pádraic Pearse’s oration at Rossa’ graveside became a call to arms that continues to inspire Irish patriots. One of my Kerry relatives kept a copy of an August 1933 reprint of the speech, cut from the pages of The Gaelic American.
  • I also reflected on my copy of a 1953 St. Patrick’s Day greeting from another Kerry relation.
  • In Northern Ireland, the International Fund for Ireland launched a new “Community Consolidation-Peace Consolidation” strategy for 2016-2020 focused on removing some of the more than 100 “peace walls” that separate Catholic and Protestant communities. “We have a role to take risks that governments can’t take,” IFI Chairman Dr. Adrian Johnston said during a September briefing at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, D.C. … But a new poll showed that support for removing the physical barriers has dropped to 49 percent, compared to 58 percent in 2012.
  • The British and Irish governments announced a new political accord to overcome various crises in the North. … Seventeen years on from the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell told a Washington audience the peace talks got off to “a very rocky start” due to the long history of mistrust in Northern Ireland and “no habit of listening to the other side.”
  • An RTÉ/BBC poll revealed two-thirds of respondents living in the Republic favor political reunification of the island within their lifetime, while just under one third of those surveyed in the North share the view. … In what was described as a “rogue action,” the Republic’s tricolour flag flew over Stormont for a few hours in June.
  • Irish Minister for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan, speaking at the  Embassy of Ireland in Washington, announced “a new strategy to improve Ireland’s connection with the diaspora.”
  • More historical records continued to be made available in 2015 for online inspection, including:

Dublin Metropolitan Police Detective Department’s “Movement of Extremists” reports leading up to the Rising, held at the Irish National Archives;

Long-awaited Catholic parish records, held by the National Library of Ireland; and

Fenian Brotherhood records and O’Donovan Rossa’s personal papers, held by The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

River Shannon by Therea M. Quirk.

Departed in 2015:

  • Six college students, five from Ireland and one holding Irish and U.S. citizenship, were killed 16 June in Berkeley, California, when the fifth floor apartment balcony where they were partying collapsed and plunged them 50 feet to the ground.
  • Dublin-born actress Maureen O’Hara, who co-stared with John Wayne in the 1952 screen hit, “The Quiet Man,” died at 95. … More than three dozen other notable Irish and Irish American deaths from the arts, sports and politics are listed here.

From the Archive:

Mitchell recalls his role as “Negotiator” in Northern Ireland


Simon Carswell, Washington correspondent for The Irish Times, interviewed Mitchell at the event described below. He later filed this piece for his paper’s website.


Seventeen years on from the historic 1998 Good Friday Agreement, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell recalled the peace talks got off to “a very rocky start” due to the long history of mistrust in Northern Ireland and “no habit of listening to the other side.”

“They were geniuses and innovators in finding things to disagree about, but like walls of granite when it came to things to agree about,” Mitchell told an Irish Network-DC audience 6 May at the Dupont Circle Hotel. The former special envoy is promoting a new memoir, “The Negotiator.”

Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, left, prepares to be interviewed by Irish Times Washington correspondent Simon Carswell.

Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, left, prepares to be interviewed by Irish Times Washington correspondent Simon Carswell.

As bad, all the parties frequently got bogged down in “tremendously repetitious presentations,” Mitchell said. And on top of all that, the American had never visited Northern Ireland before. He struggled with Ulster’s distinctive accent.

“I didn’t understand a thing they were saying the first six months,” he said with a grin.

Mitchell said that women in Northern Ireland not directly involved in the talks played a huge role in the peace process. He did not mention fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, who some critics accuse of trying to inflate her role in the talks as First Lady in her husband’s administration, especially now that she is running for the presidency.

Mitchell said that Northern Ireland too often gets an unfair rap for “violence and dysfunction.” He tells people, “Look, I just came from the U.S.” But he acknowledged the “peace walls” that still separate Catholic and Protestant sections of Belfast. He added, “Reconciliation comes very slowly.”

Prior to being appointed special envoy to Northern Ireland in 1995, Mitchell, 81, had only briefly visited the Republic of Ireland during his Senate years. His father had been born of Irish immigrant parents but was orphaned at a young age. Growing up, Mitchell said, “I didn’t have any sense of my Irish heritage.” Becoming so deeply involved with people on both sides of the partitioned island “filled a void I didn’t know I had.”

McCann’s “TransAtlantic” weaves trio of Irish historical events

UPDATE: Waterford erected a plaque honoring Douglass’s 1845 visit.


I’ve just finished reading Colum McCann’s “TransAtlantic: A Novel.” The book wraps the stories of several generations of women around three historical events that involved crossings of the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Ireland.

The most recent of the three events were the 1990s travels of U.S. Sen George Mitchell to broker peace between nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland. Such recent history is well known and have been covered previously in this blog.

The other two events are older and perhaps less familiar. One is the first flight across the Atlantic by John Alcott and Arthur Brown. The men left Newfoundland on June 14, 1919, and reached Clifden, in County Galway, the next day.

McCann’s describes the aviators’ first look at Ireland after a 16-hour flight:

The plane crosses the land at a low clip. Down below, a sheep with a magpie sitting on its back. … In the distance, the mountains. The quiltwork of stone walls. Corkscrew roads. Stunted trees. An abandoned castle. A pig farm. A church. … Ireland. A beautiful country. A bit savage on a man all the same.

The third historical event in the novel centers on the 1845 visit of Frederick Douglass, including his meeting with “Liberator” Daniel O’Connell. “The ghost of the Irish nationalist, before and after the Civil War years, often inhabited Douglass’s thinking,” according to this piece by historian Tom Chaffin.

One of the most poignant parts of the novel describes Douglass’ trip to Cork from Dublin as famine began to grip the Irish countryside. McCann writes:

They entered wild country. Broken fences. Ruined castles. Stretches of bogland. Wooded headlands. Turfsmoke rose from cabins, thin and mean. On muddy paths, they glimpsed moving rags. The rags seemed more animated than the bodies within.

Below: Mural of Douglass on the Falls Road in Belfast.


George Mitchell on Good Friday’s 15th anniversary

Numerous political figures played critical roles in securing the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. I’ve always most appreciated the work of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the negotiations.

Here’s his 15th anniversary reflection, from the Belfast Telegraph:

It was a difficult experience but one that ultimately produced what I think is a good result.

When the agreement was reached I said publicly on that day and in the days that followed that in itself it did not guarantee peace or political stability or reconciliation but rather it made them possible.

Whether they would occur would depend upon the courage and commitment of the political leaders and people of Northern Ireland.

As we all know of course there were many problems, setbacks, issues over the past 15 years but they have worked hard to resolve them and I certainly believe, and I hope most people do, that Northern Ireland is a better place as a result of the agreement.

It’s undeniable not every issue has been resolved or problem solved. I also think it’s important not to hold Northern Ireland to an unrealistic standard that no other society meets. Every society has its problems.

We’ve got plenty of problems here in the United States, there are problems in other parts of the United Kingdom, there are plenty of problems in Ireland and the European Union and you could go all around the world and say the same thing.

On balance, I think Northern Ireland has made progress and I feel very honoured to have been part of it. I still come back to Northern Ireland often. I’m an American and proud of it but a large part of my heart and my emotions will always be in Northern Ireland and with the people there.

Readers interested in learning more about Mitchell’s role in Northern Ireland should pick up a copy of his 1999 book, Making Peace.


 George Mitchell