Tag Archives: John Hume

John Feerick on ‘Irish roots and American promise’

The dust jacket and marketing materials for John D. Feerick’s memoir, That Further Shore [Fordham University Press], say the author’s life “has all the elements of a modern Horatio Alger story: the poor boy who achieves success by dint of his hard work.” It’s also an Irish-American success story: the son of 1920s Co. Mayo immigrants who became the first in his family to attend college and law school.

Feerick was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s call to service in the 1960s. He helped frame the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in part because of Kennedy’s assassination. He became dean of Fordham University Law and president of the New York City Bar Association.

In 1995, Feerick joined the American delegation for Bill Clinton’s historic visit to Northern Ireland, which set the stage for the Good Friday Agreement. He was a founder of Fordham Law’s Belfast/Dublin Program, now in its 20th year.

John D. Feerick on Zoom, Sept. 23.

Ireland was always very present,” in songs, stories, and pictures on the wall of the small South Bronx apartment where he grew up, Feerick said during a Sept. 23 digital “fireside chat” hosted by Brehon Law Society. Like most Irish immigrants, his parents “never saw their parents again; they never saw their siblings again. They didn’t have any money to go back.”

Feerick has made numerous trips to both sides of the Irish border, including genealogical reasearch for his memoir, a labor of love some 18 years in the making. He enthused about meeting distant relations and finding records with small but dear details of information. He acknowledged the opportunites lost to question key people while they were alive: he doesn’t know for sure how his parents met in America.

“It means everything to me,” Feerick said of his Irish heritage. “It’s part of my roots.”

He has hesitated, however, to place his name on Ireland’s Foreign Birth Register, which confers citizenship and elegibilty for an Irish passport, as so many of us have done.

“I’ve wrestled with it, but haven’t done it,” he said. “I consider myself an American Irishman.”

Feerick was diplomatic in answering a question about the impact of Brexit on the Irish border, subject of my last post:

“I can’t imagine that responsible leadership would remove the open border between the north and south,” he said. “That was so integral to the Agreement.”

Feerick also briefly discussed his work with two recently deceased figures, one from each side of the Atlantic:

  • Irish nationalist politician John Hume of Derry, who died Aug. 3: They were introduced during a 1994 luncheon at Fordham. “I really didn’t appreciate how important he was,” Feerick said. “He said, ‘Great lunch, but I want more from you. Come to Northern Ireland.’ ” During the Clinton visit the following year, they laid the groundwork for the Fordham-Ulster Conflict Resolution Program, then the summer law program.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18: They met in New York City law school circles. Feerick testified on Ginsburg’s behalf at her 1993 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing. “She was a person of fantastic commitment, especially on the issue of descrimiation against women,” he said. She became the outstanding lawyer in America in terms of gender descrimination.”

More of Feerick’s reflections about his life and writing his memoir are found in his Aug. 9 post for History News Network.

Catching up with modern Ireland: August

This month’s round up leads with two deaths, one on each side of the Atlantic, both connected to Northern Ireland: 1998 Nobel Prize-winning Irish politician John Hume, 83, of Derry, who helped forge the Good Friday Agreement; and journalist and author Pete Hamill, 85, the Brooklyn-born son of Belfast Catholic immigrants.

Hume

“Hume combined moral clarity against violence and strategic vision for what peace might entail with a politician’s embrace of life’s complexities, the need to compromise and to take risks, to find where power lies and to exploit it,” Tom McTague wrote in The Atlantic. “Hume was supremely successful in this effort, whether you agree with the ends he pursued or the tactics he deployed to achieve them; he was not a saint, but a man who made judgments that are not beyond reproach. He abhorred violence, but brought Sinn Fein’s leaders (who did not) to the top table of Northern Irish politics. In seeking out giants, we are too quick to seek out perfection, when no such thing exists. Hume’s legacy lies in the compromises he championed and the complexities he recognized.

***

Hamill

“Hamill was among the last symbols of a bygone era, when idiosyncratic newspaper columnists like Mike Royko in Chicago and Jimmy Breslin in New York were celebrities in the cities they covered,” Harrison Smith wrote in the Washington Post. “He was in the vanguard of the New Journalism movement, when writers such as Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and Breslin applied the traditional tools of literary fiction to works of reporting, often while writing about ordinary people who usually never made headlines.”

***

Also in August:

  • The Irish Examiner was first to report that more than 80 people attended an Irish golf society event in Clifden, County Galway, breaching COVID-19 restrictions in spirit, if not in fact. Three Irish politicians have resigned their posts. The scandal is emblematic of larger problems in the three-party coalition cobbled together four months after Irish elections, the Examiner’s Gerald Howlin wrote under the headline, “Golfgate shows the government has the wrong clubs in the bag“.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, 1,777 people died of coronavirus as of Aug. 30, and 142 new cases at month’s end caused health officials to warn of a second national lock down, The Irish Times reported. At least 871 people have died from COVID-19 in Northern Ireland through Aug. 21.
  • The North’s top tourist attraction reopened Aug. 1 with safety measures to cope with the ongoing pandemic. “But it could be months, possibly years, before Titanic Belfast is anywhere near back to delivering the sort of economic statistics which has earned it international plaudits,” The Irish News reported.
  • Next to the museum, Harland & Wolff has benefited from ferry and cruise ship firms using the famous shipyard’s dry docks to carry out maintenance during the pandemic shutdown. The firm is still fighting for its long-term financial survival.
  • One more from the North: “No United Ireland. Not Now. Not Ever,” says Briefings For Britain, which insists “the impact of Brexit on Irish unity remains unclear.” … U.K. and E.U. negotiators are still trying to reach a trade agreement before the Dec. 31 end of the Brexit transition period.  
  • Fitch Ratings affirmed an A+ Stable Outlook for the Republic, factoring the uncertainties of the pandemic, Brexit, and the coalition government.
  • The Republic’s population is on the threshold of 5 million, reaching an estimated 4.98 million as of April, according to the Central Statistics Office. Total population on the island of Ireland, including the North, reached 5.1 million in 2016, exceeding the 1851 post-Famine census total for the first time.

A road on Inisheer, August 2019.

Former Irish diplomat discusses Northern Ireland

Retired Irish diplomat John Rowan discussed the early years of the Northern Ireland peace process and other topics at a recent Irish Network DC event. Rowan joined Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs in 1974 and was posted to the Embassy in Washington in 1976, during some of the bloodiest days of the Troubles.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

John Rowan at Irish Network DC event.

Rowan said nationalist leader John Hume was “a hero” of the earliest efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland through a strategy that “broadened the problem” beyond Ulster’s borders.

In America, it initially was tough getting much interest from the Jimmy Carter Administration, Rowan said, because the president and his top advisers had no connections or interests in Irish affairs. The U.S. State Department was dominated by those who favored the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom, while much of Irish diaspora in America supported the IRA.

Hume’s efforts soon got a boost from four prominent Irish-American politicians: Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill and New York Governor Hugh Carey. They came to be known as the four horsemen.

“They visited Northern Ireland and they researched,” Rowan said. “They wanted people about a solution, not fighting for a solution.”

By 30 August 1977 Carter was persuaded to issue a key statement on U.S. policy in Northern Ireland, which signaled the start of America playing a more active role in the peace process. The statement said, in part:

The United States wholeheartedly supports peaceful means for finding a just solution that involves both parts of the community of Northern Ireland .and protects human rights and guarantees freedom from discrimination–a solution that the people in Northern Ireland, as well as the Governments of Great Britain and Ireland can support. Violence cannot resolve Northern Ireland’s problems; it only increases them and solves nothing.

“It was a game changer,” Rowan said. “We had another party interested in being our partner, a very powerful partner that would express its views. We also found that the diaspora was not monolithic in its support for armed struggle.”

Of course, it took another 21 years of incremental steps and set backs to reach the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Hume shared the Noble Peace Prize with unionist leader David Trimble. Since then the six counties of Ulster have enjoyed a level of peace and progress, if still imperfect, that was unimaginable in 1977.

Rowan said he expects to see “some derivation” of the Northern Ireland Executive created by the landmark agreement in the years ahead. “There will be some realignment on the nationalist and unions sides,” he said.

It’s possible, Rowan said, that Sinn Fein could eventually hold the position of First Minister instead of Deputy First Minister. He does not expect to see a unification referendum any time soon, nor does he believe the six counties might form their own statelet independent of Britain.

“That would not be viable,” he said, noting that Ulster is too dependent on government help to leave the U.K., which also why it’s unlikely the Republic would want to embrace the region. “The private sector is too fragile.”

Historic IRA ceasefire hits 20th anniversary

Recognising the potential of the current situation and in order to enhance the democratic process and underlying our definitive commitment to its success, the leadership of the IRA have decided that as of midnight, August 31, there will be a complete cessation of military operations. All our units have been instructed accordingly.

— Irish Republican Army ceasefire statement of August 1994

Some great coverage of this historic event is emerging from Irish and British media outlets.

Writing for the BBC, Vincent Kearney recounts obtaining the ceasefire statement through a republican source as a reporter for the Belfast Telegraph. He tells the back story leading up to the deal, such as the secret meetings between Gerry Adams and John Hume facilitated by a Catholic priest at Clonard Monastery.

Kearney recalls the violence preceding the Downing Street Declaration between prime ministers John Major of Britain and the recently deceased Albert Reynolds of Ireland. He also quotes republican leader and now Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness:

People make a mistake if they think that the engagement that took place between ourselves and the British government back channel, for want of a better word, was the motivating factor in bringing about the IRA ceasefire of 1994, that’s not the way the process worked. What brought about the IRA ceasefire was the coming together of Irish America, support from the White House, the Albert Reynolds input and, of course, the initiative led by Gerry Adams and by John Hume, with the support of Father Alec Reid.

Adams, Reynolds and Hume shortly after the IRA ceasefire. Belfast Telegraph image.

Adams, Reynolds and Hume shortly after the IRA ceasefire. Belfast Telegraph image.

The Irish Times has a couple of pieces by two insiders. Nancy Soderberg, a foreign policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton, details the persistence of Reynolds and others to obtain a visa for IRA man Joe Cahill to sell the ceasefire to republican hardliners in the U.S. Former Reynolds press secretary Seán Duignan tells the same story from the Irish side.