Tag Archives: Mayo

Ireland’s broadband push recalls rural electrification effort

In a ceremony days before Christmas 1947, Ballymacelligott parish priest Fr. M. O’Donoghue “made alive” an electric connection to the rural community four miles east of Tralee in County Kerry. (The town obtained electricity 20 years earlier.) “Appropriately the first house to be lighted up was the House of God,” The Kerryman reported.1

The church connection completed a year of similar events in the Irish government’s Rural Electrification Scheme. At the time, about two thirds of Irish homes were without electricity. It would take until the late 1970s to connect 99 percent of those homes, with the Black Valley in Kerry, about 25 miles south of Ballymacelligott, being among the last places lighted.

Now, two generations after completing the electric grid, the Irish government has embarked on a similar effort to supply high-speed broadband service beyond the country’s cities and towns. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in November hailed the initiative as the “biggest investment in rural Ireland ever” and the “most important since rural electrification”.2

Dromiskin, County Louth, c. 1949. ESB Archives

The €3 billion National Broadband Plan (NBP) “aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland,” the government’s website says. “It will ensure that all citizens and businesses have access to high speed broadband no matter where they live or work.”

Over the next four years, 1.1 million rural residents will receive broadband service through a combination of commercial and State-led investment, according to the plan, “securing equal access for every person in Ireland to opportunities which will transform [their] lives,” whether through agriculture and other economic development, healthcare, or education. The 90 percent coverage goal includes portions of Ballymacelligott. 

The project is likely to have its share of setbacks on the way to success, as happened with rural electrification. That history is detailed at the online Electricity Supply Board (ESB) Archives, and in Michael J. Shiel’s 1984 book, The Quiet Revolution: The Electrification of Rural Ireland, 1946-1976. Sheil was a Galway-born, ESB engineer at the start of the venture who eventually became one of its directors. He also was one of its first customers, with his residence transformed into a “show house” to persuade reluctant farmers about the benefits of electricity.3

Electrification had massive social and cultural consequences for rural Ireland. Many rural households replaced the free 100W bulb they received with a lower wattage because the new light made them feel sick or “tended to put out [the glow of] the fire.4 Others at first agreed to take electricity, then changed their minds, in part because of the costs. They became known as “backsliders.” 

In a 1984 review of The Quiet Revolution, Dan Collins wrote: “Some to this day regret that rural Ireland ever became ensnared in the State-backed corporate scheme which they argued sounded the death knell for many of the old traditions which characterized the unique heritage of the Irish.”5 Historian Diarmaid Ferriter at least twice has used an anecdote from Quiet Revolution about a War of Independence veteran who asserted, “it wasn’t for street lamps that we fought.”6

But rural electrification expanded inexorably. Shiel, in a 2007 chapter for a U.S. energy management publication,7 maintained that government officials and business leaders recognized the positive social and psychological components of rural electrification. “They viewed electricity not only as a means to improve rural productivity, but also as a way to free rural people, particularly women, from the age-old drudgery of farm life. … It gave rural people a belief in themselves and their potential, which had hitherto been lacking.”

Kitchen Power: Women’s Experiences of Rural Electrification”, an exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland/Country Life, Mayo, explores the female perspective of the “quiet revolution” until July. Listen to oral history interviews with four women who lived through the transformation.

The digital divide is also a problem in rural America, just as spotty electric service kept these communities isolated during the Great Depression. In January, the U.S. government announced a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund totaling $20.4 billion over 10 years.

“It’s about time. They take care of their cities, but they don’t take care of you,” President Donald Trump said in a speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, exploiting the same rural/urban division that is also exposed in Ireland, whether related to garda stations or post offices, economic development or healthcare services.8

Faster access to the internet will not by itself solve such problems on either side of the Atlantic. “Utopia of course is far from being reached,” Shiel concluded in his 1984 book. “At the time of writing there are immense problems, economic and social, looming. The progress of the people of rural Ireland, however, … has been by any standards remarkable.”9  

And so the remarkable changes in rural Ireland since 1947 … or even since 1984 … will continue with the implementation of broadband service. Sometime in the coming years the Ballymacelligott church pews will be digital hot spots.

First pole at Kilsallaghan, County Dublin, Nov. 5, 1946. ESB Archives.

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.”

Catching up with modern Ireland: September

Political uncertainty means economic uncertainty. And so it is with the looming Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

“Risks from the international environment are increasing due to continued uncertainty over Brexit and the growing evidence of a slowdown amongst some of Ireland’s most important trading partners. If a no-deal Brexit occurs in late 2019, it is not inconceivable that the Irish economy could contract in 2020,” the Economic & Social Research Institute said in a Sept. 26 report.

Brexit developments are changing daily. As The Telegraph explains, “Things are not going well.” Elsewhere …

  • The Catholic Church in Ireland recognized as a miracle the 1989 healing of an Athlone woman with multiple sclerosis claimed. She claimed the cure resulted from her visit to the Knock Shrine in County Mayo, site of an 1879 apparition.
  • The New York Times revealed Irish diplomats saved one its reporters from being arrested by Egyptian officials after the Trump administration refused their request for help.
  • A £1.25 billion contract to build five Royal Navy frigates is a lifeline to the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, which in August entered administration. About 130 people work at the historic shipyard, down from a peak of 35,000 in the 1920s , the decade after its workers built the Titanic.
  • An art exhibit that draws its inspiration from the W. B. Yeats’ poem “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” has opened at the Irish Consulate in New York City. The exhibition, curated by the Hamilton Gallery in Sligo, features art works by 129 artists themed around the poem. The catalog is available on YouTube as a series of short videos.
  • Glaslough in County Monaghan won the 2019 Tidy Towns competition.
  • Finally–hate to say it–Dublin beat Kerry for a record fifth straight All-Ireland Championship.

Yeats statue in Sligo city. August 2019

On returning to Ireland, a look back at previous trips

I’m traveling to Ireland for the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland’s 2018 Conference, “The Press & the Vote,” at NUI Galway. Watch for my tweets (@markaholan) and posts over the coming week.

First, here are links to photo features from my last two trips.

February 2018

Douglas Hyde Center in Co. Roscommon.

July 2016

Belfast mural of nationalist hero Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike in 1981. (July 2016)

Ireland preps for historic visit by pope

UPDATE: I’ll publish a new post as the visit of Pope Francis unfolds over the weekend. MH

A day before his arrival, the New York Times and Washington Post feature prominent stories about the clergy abuse problem in Ireland. In the Times‘ story, a Donegal police detective says the problem is “worse than the I.R.A.”

ORIGINAL POST:

“No God for Ireland! We have had too much God in Ireland. Away with God!”

The quote is from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As Ireland prepares for the 25-26 August visit of Pope Francis, the question is whether “Catholic Church” should replace “God” in the quote, which was more or less Joyce’s intention when he published the novel in 1916.

Ireland is a very different place today than 102 years ago, and also from 1979, when Pope John Paul II became the first pontiff to visit the island. As The Guardian notes in When faith fades: can the pope still connect with a changed Ireland:

In the past four decades Ireland has embraced divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion, all once unimaginable in a country where the church and the state were in an intimate partnership. In 1979, 93 percent of the population still identified as Catholic and went to mass every week. Since then, there has been a marked downward trajectory of the proportion of the population identifying as Catholic to 78 percent at the 2016 census, while the second largest – and growing – category is people who say they have no religion, at around 10 percent.

In his The Papal Visit of 1979: Context and Legacy piece in The Irish Story, Barry Sheppard writes “the evangelical zeal of the Catholic Action movement which exploded in the 1930s still loomed-large in public life, and was in fact reinvigorated in the aftermath of the (John Paul II) visit, targeting the familiar old foes of popular entertainment and cinema as agents of the decline of Irish morals. … It is highly doubtful that next week’s visit can generate the same input.”

Crux Editor John L. Allen Jr. provides FAQs on Pope Francis in Ireland, including protests and counter-events.  A word of caution, however, to anyone who plans to follow the pontiff by car. The Marian shrine at Knock, County Mayo, is about three hours west of Dublin, not four hours to the “north,” as Allen writes. Trust me, I just made the drive in February.

Pope John Paul II during his 1979 visit to Ireland.

Visiting Ireland in photos, part 3

The final set of photos in this series from my just completed seventh visit to Ireland has a religious theme. I’ll be returning to my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited series, and other history and contemporary issues shortly. As always, thanks for spending some time on my blog. MH

I returned to Knock, County Mayo, for the first time since 2001. The Basilica in 2016 added a giant mosaic of the 1879 apparition. The original church is being restored in anticipation of a potential visit by Pope Francis this August. Here’s my June 2017 piece on Knock’s vision visitors.

A giant mosaic unveiled in 2016 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock (Mayo) depicts the 1879 apparition.

After visiting the National Museum of Country Life near Castlebar, Mayo, I made the short drive to the Turlough Round Tower. It was built in the 9th century, with the church graveyard added to the grounds in the 18th century church.

This crucifixion plaque dates to 1625 (The numbers are barely visible below the figures).

I stopped at historic Saint Muredach’s Catholic Cathedral,facing the River Moy in Ballina, Mayo. I found two of Ireland’s patron saints in stained glass.

St. Patrick and St. Briget.

Visiting Ireland in photos, part 2

Two statues, two graves.

Michael Davitt, 1846-1906, native of County Mayo, was an agrarian activist, journalist, MP and humanitarian.

Douglas Hyde, 1860-1949, native of County Roscommon, was the first president of the Gaelic League and the first president of Ireland.

Visiting Ireland in photos, part 1

Some images from my current visit to Ireland. More posts to follow.

St. Stephen’s Green has a colorful history at the center of Dublin since the mid-17th century.

Photos are prohibited inside the Reading Room of the National Library of Ireland, but are widely available online.

The legend of St. Patrick at Skerries, about 20 miles north of Dublin.

Detail of altar at 13th century Straid Abbey in County Mayo. At center, Mary hold Jesus after the crucifixion. St John at left; Mary Magdeline (supposedly) at right.

 

Irish labor built Pennsylvania’s famous Horseshoe Curve

ALTOONA~As the Great Famine began to ease in the early 1850s, about 450 Irishmen began working on an extraordinary engineering project in south-central Pennsylvania. Their accomplishment remains in place today as a vital segment of the American economy.

Working with only picks, shovels and some explosives–but no machinery–the men shaved the face of adjoining mountains to fill in two ravines and lay the grade for a railroad line. They built the Horseshoe Curve for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

A display at this National Historical Landmark, about 10 miles west of Altoona, offers only a few details about the men. They are said to have been recruited for the job because they were “former mine workers,” mostly from counties Cork, Mayo and Antrim. Keep in mind this project was completed 20 years before the Molly Maguire unrest began in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region, some 200 miles to the northeast.

The 2,375-foot curve, which opened to freight and passenger traffic in February 1854, reduced the trip between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from 20 days by wagon to about 15 hours by train. It remains part of the nation’s critical east-west rail corridor.

A westbound freight train climbs the grade through a light rain in this July 2017 image. Below, trees obscure the entrance of the road tunnel.

 

Surf and turf: Beach reappears as wildfires spread

These two environmental stories caught my eye:

Dooagh Beach is back! The strand on the west side of Achill Island, Mayo, disappeared 33 years ago during a storm.  Now, a “freak tide” has deposited hundreds of tons of sand where for more than three decades there has been nothing but rocky tide pools.

This Smithsonian.com story links to other coverage.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times reports that 30 to 40 gorse fires are raging across the country. The majority of the fires are burning around the Border area and Roscommon and Sligo, but the most significant blaze is in Cloosh Valley in Galway, according to the Times.

The beach is back. Image by Sean Molloy/Achill Tourism Via Reuters.