Tag Archives: Michael D. Higgins

Catching up with modern Ireland: March

There’s only one story to report in this month’s roundup: the COVID-19 pandemic, which exploded in Ireland and across the globe shortly before St. Patrick’s Day and soon cancelled parades, closed pubs and churches, and cloistered communities. As history’s longest March draws to a close, here are some key developments from the island of Ireland:

  • A combined 67 people have died, and more than 3,000 have tested positive for COVID-19, in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as of March 29. Sadly, these numbers will grow.
  • Citizens of the Republic are on strict quarantine through April 12, Easter Sunday. Gardaí are patrolling the streets to enforce the lock down.
  • The Republic nationalized all its hospitals. “For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people,” Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris said. “There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic.”
  • Aer Lingus completed the first of 10 scheduled round trips to bring personal protective equipment (PPE) from China to Ireland in a €208m deal, RTÉ reported March 29.

Leo Varadkar, who remains Ireland’s caretaker taoiseach after February’s election defeat, is a trained doctor. His handling of the COVID-19 crisis has generally been praised. Steve Humphreys/Pool via REUTERS

  • In the midst of the pandemic, the Republic is still trying to forge a new government. The Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil political parties, both center right but historic rivals, are reported to be nearing a deal on a new administration in the coming weeks. The left-wing Sinn Fein, which topped the Feb. 8 election, would be kept … well … isolated.
  • The Irish people paused March 26 to applauded healthcare and front line workers fighting the pandemic. “In the Dáil, TDs stood at the allotted hour, forgetting their discussions of emergency measures for a brief moment to clap with gusto in appreciation of the hundreds of battles being fought by medical staff around the country,” The Irish Times reported. In the North, the “Clap for Carers” tribute featured buildings lit blue and cathedrals ringing bells.
  • Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall advised Irish citizens in America, especially those on short-term visas, to return to Ireland, “if there are doubts about the stability of your employment & your access to health care cover.”
  • The 50th Listowel Writers’ Week in North Kerry, scheduled for May 27-31, was postponed until 2021.
  • As encouragement to the people, Irish President Michael D. Higgins recorded his 27-year-old poem Take Care. Click the SoundCloud link in the tweet below:

Language, Law, and the Maamtrasna Murders

Myles Joyce declared he was innocent of the August 1882 murders of five neighbors in rural Maamtrasna, County Galway. “I had no dealing with it, no more than the person who was never born,” he said.

Joyce, in his 40s, spoke Irish. The crown prosecutors and judge in the Dublin courtroom where he was tried for the crime spoke English. Joyce was denied a translator until he was found guilty and sentenced. He was hanged in December 1882.

Margaret Kelleher at Georgetown.

Margaret Kelleher, chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, authored the 2018 book about the case, The Maamtrasna Murders: Language, Life, and Death in Nineteenth-Century. In a Feb. 19 talk at Georgetown University’s Global Irish Studies program, she acknowledged becoming aware of her own tendency to say Joyce spoke “only Irish”, instead of “Irish only,” a vestige of how the language was diminish by the official English of the ruling British state. Joyce was among just over 64,000 monoglot Irish speakers in a population of 5.1 million.

In April 2018, Irish President Michael D. Higgins granted a posthumous pardon to Joyce, concluding “the case was unsafe according the standards of the time.” Debate continues as to whether the British state that administering the 19th century court system that failed Joyce should take the same action. The bigger question, however, is whether such miscarriages of justice can be avoided today.

Kelleher reprised these thoughts from her 2018 piece in The Irish Times:

In contemporary Ireland, the arrival of new immigrants from a more diverse range of backgrounds than heretofore necessitates a significant expansion of translation and interpretation services in the judicial system; yet these needs are poorly addressed, where recognized, at service or policy level. … Our contemporary moment is one in which large-scale mobility (forced or voluntary) is occurring within a seemingly globalized society but individual migrants can find poor accommodation from judicial systems and legal processes.

I look forward to reading the book, now being published in North America by University of Chicago Press Books.

Pence hit for cross-Ireland commute; Brexit comment

UPDATE:

The entrance of Trump’s Doonbeg golf course in County Clare during my July 2016 visit.

The Doonbeg boondoggle: “Pence’s stay at Trump’s resort reeks of corruption.” Washington Post editorial

“As Pence read from the autocue and Irish eyes definitely stopped smiling, it was clear he was channeling His Master’s Voice. Trump is a fan of Brexit and of Boris.” — Miriam Lord in The Irish Times

ORIGINAL POST:

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is being roundly criticized for spending his two nights in Ireland at the Doonbeg, County Clare, golf resort owned by his boss, U.S. President Donald Trump.

Most of Pence’s business is in Dublin, 180 miles east on the opposite side of the island. In America, this would be like Pence staying in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while he conducted business in Washington, D.C. Cue the Billy Joel classic.

“… the opportunity to stay at the Trump National in Doonbeg, to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel, made it logical,” Pence said, according to Politico.

The bigger story is that Pence (and Trump) appear to be throwing Ireland under the Brexit bus. The Irish Times reported the Veep’s meeting with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “did not go entirely to plan” as the American leader “made an unexpected intervention … on Brexit that is far from helpful as Ireland enters a crucial period in the those negotiations.”

Varadkar told Pence that Ireland “must stand our ground on the withdrawal agreement, an agreement which was carefully negotiated to overcome all these risks. … And so Mr Vice-President I ask that you bring that message back to Washington with you. This is not a problem of our making.”

Pence refused to take questions from dozens of assembled reporters, The Guardian reported.

U.S. Vice-President Pence signs the guest book at Áras an Uachtaráin. Also shown, left to right, Sabina Higgins, Irish President Micheal D Higgins, and Karen Pence. MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE

 

U.S. Independence Day in Ireland: Bans to boycotts

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford, left, and Irish President Michael D. Higgins.

Aodhán Ó Riordáin, a Labor party member of the Irish Senate, has renewed his 2018 call for Irish politicians to boycott the U.S. Embassy’s Independence Day reception in protest of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Frankie Feighan, a Fine Gael senator, has replied, “I have issues with Donald Trump and I do not agree with him, but a boycott of our friends in the United States is not a way forward,” according to The Irish Times.

New U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Edward F. Crawford, who earlier this week presented his credentials to Irish President Michael D. Higgins, will host the 4 July event at the ambassador’s official residence in Phoenix Park.

This “white house,” known as Deerfield Residence, was completed in 1776 for Col. John Blaquiere, chief secretary of the British government in Ireland. The first U.S. envoy to Ireland moved into the residence in 1927. “It was appropriately coincidental that the United States, which declared its own Independence in 1776, should establish the president’s representative in the residence completed in the same year,” the embassy website notes.

One hundred years ago, an American independence celebration in Cork was “proclaimed” (banned) by British military authorities. Remember, this was seven months after the separatist Sinn Féin election victory and establishment of the breakaway Dáil Éireann in Dublin.

The scheduled procession from the National Monument to City Hall was to conclude with an addressed by Sinn Féin politician Liam de Roiste “on a matter of great national importance,” the Irish Examiner reported.1 The military prohibited the event just a few hours before it was set to begin.

“There was no display of military or police on the street; the only unusual sign being that the American flag flew from the Sinn Féin rooms,” the Examiner wrote. About the time of the scheduled 8 p.m. start, “rain set in and continued without cessation until a late hour.”

De Roiste and other pro-Irish independence supporters instead gathered in nearby Lough, where they passed a resolution that said, in part:

Be it resolved that this public meeting of the citizens of Cork, assembled on American Independence Day, 1919, sends fraternal greetings to the people of the United States of America, and records the appreciation of the people of this city on the action which is being taking by the American people on behalf of Ireland’s independence …

A two-sentence Associated Press brief about the “forbidden” celebration in Cork was published in dozens of U.S. newspapers. It did not mention the Lough meeting or the resolution.

Read “Declaring Independence, America 1776; Ireland 1919” , a lecture by Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall, delivered 2 April 2019, at the University of Virginia.

U.S. Ambassador to Ireland’s residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

 

Catching up with modern Ireland: December

The most important story of (December) 2018 will likely be the most important story of (January) 2019: Brexit, and the impact on the Irish border. British Prime Minister Theresa May scratched the scheduled 11 December vote on her Brexit package when it became clear parliament would not accept the deal approved weeks earlier by the European Union. Now the vote is set for the week of 14 January, date to be determined.

  • In mid-December, the Irish government published a “sobering” contingency plan in case of a no-deal exit by Britain from the European Union, a move that officials say would hurt Ireland more than any other country in the bloc, The New York Times reported. A second story in the Times described how Brexit could disrupt trade and reinvigorate the conflict between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
  • “Ireland can lay credible claim to offer a haven from the populist plague that has infected so many other countries.”Chris Johns in The Irish Times.
  • Hopes for a new class of visa for Irish citizens were dashed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican. Outgoing U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, had pushed the measure through the lower chamber in the waning days of the session, The Irish Times reported.
  • Tourism Ireland declared 2018 “the best year ever for overseas tourism to the island of Ireland,” with some 11.2 million visitors. Dublin Airport reported that it welcomed more than 30 million passengers for the first time in its 78-year history. I was happy to contribute to those numbers with visits in February and November, the first time I’ve traveled to Ireland more than once within one year.
  • Over 3,500 people were refused entry to Ireland at passport control in the last year, TheJournal.ie reported, including nearly 200 Americans. (Happily, as noted above, I wasn’t among them.)
  • The Irish Times‘ U.S. correspondent Suzanne Lynch profiled Scituate, Massachusetts, as “the most Irish town in America,” based on 2010 U.S. Census data. The Daily Mail reported the same story in 2011, as have other media. Lynch quoted Niall O’Dowd, editor of IrishCentral.com, who warned that Ireland is in danger of losing its diaspora in the coming decades. “You have to work at a diaspora. Diasporas can die.”
  • Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed the bill legalizing abortion in Ireland, as approved by referendum earlier in year. The procedures are expected to become available in January.
  • The bestselling books in Ireland for 2018, according to The Irish Times.
  • 2018 deaths of Irish celebrities and other notables, per Legacy.com.

Ring of Kerry. Tourism Ireland image.

George H.W. Bush, disengaged during Troubles, dies at 94

Irish political leaders are offering their condolences on the 30 November death of former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush.

“He will be remembered for the directness with which he expressed his policy principles and his efforts to achieve bipartisanship,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement. “On behalf of the Irish people I offer our deepest sympathies to his family and to the people of the United States.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted:


Unlike U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, Bush never had much of a relationship with the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Bush was Reagan’s vice president from 1980 to 1988, then won the office in 1988, spanning some of the bloodiest years of The Troubles.

Once Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 U.S. election, he sought to “establish distance” from his predecessor’s approach to Ulster, according to John Dumbrell in “The United States and the Northern Irish Conflict 1969–94: from Indifference to Intervention,” a 1995 piece.

George H. W. Bush

“The Bush administration had followed a cautious, State Department line, strongly opposing the MacBride principles and interpreting the situation in the province as ‘unripe’ for mediation.” … Since the Carter presidency of the late 1970s,  “Washington has asserted the legitimacy of its interest in the province and-with the exception of the Bush years-presented something approaching a coherent, interventionist strategy.”

The Good Friday Agreement was reached during Clinton’s second term of office, 20 years ago this year. In 2010, introducing Clinton for a Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award, Bush recognized his successor’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Christmas and New Year message from Ireland

Irish President Michael D. Higgins highlights the plight of migrants in global trouble spots such as Syria in his annual Christmas and New Year message.

“The circumstances of the birth of Christ, with its forced migration, homelessness and powerlessness, are being re-enacted for us the world over, in the conditions of migrants – including infants and children – as they wait, not knowing what the future will hold for them,” Higgins says.

His message also gives a final node to this year’s 1916 Easter Rising centennial.

“We commemorated how one hundred years ago a small group of women and men set in train a series of events that ultimately led to an independent State. In doing so, we celebrated elements of our past that can provide us with a lasting source of pride and confidence, as well as a compass for the future. We also reflected on aspects of our history that had been forgotten, evaded or even downplayed.”

Reconsidering Ireland’s centennial remembrances

UPDATE:

More on the tone of centennial commemorations from Irish historian Diarmaid Ferriter in the Times: “How do you prefer our long-dead Irish Fenians? Revered or reviled?”

ORIGINAL POST:

The recent 100th anniversary of the Dublin funeral of Fenian O’Donovan Rossa is raising tough questions about how Ireland will recognize other events in the “Decade of Centenaries,” 1912-1922. Some events are more significant, or controversial, than others.

Marie Coleman, a lecturer in Modern Irish History at Queen’s University Belfast, says she was “perplexed and concerned by the nature and extent of the [Irish] State’s official commemoration” at Glasnevin cemetery, which was attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D. Higgins. She writes in The Irish Times:

It was unclear whether the focus of the event was Rossa himself or the significance of the funeral as signifying the rejuvenation of republicanism as a precursor to the Easter Rising. If the former, the State’s endorsement of an archaic form of irredentist Irish nationalism will sit uncomfortably with many in 21st-century Ireland and with unionist opinion in Northern Ireland. …

I would question if either Rossa or his celebrated obsequies were of sufficient historical significance to warrant a full commemorative ceremony from the State. It would appear that the construct of the “Decade of Centenaries” has created a need to find events to commemorate every year until 2023, even if such events are not of equal significance. …

[Like other anniversaries North and South] [c]ommemorating events that predominantly involved men with guns is highly problematic in a society still going through a fragile process of conflict transformation.

The Slugger O’Toole blog also delves into this issue under the headline, “Can we ever lay 1916 to rest?” The column raises questions about remembering anniversaries associated with the violence of The Troubles in the North.

Higgins gives annual holiday message

Irish President Michael D. Higgins has given his annual Christmas and New Year message. Here is the full text, via The Irish Times. Here are a few passages:

In this year of the Gathering, we extended a warm welcome to the Irish Diaspora. Christmas, however, reminds us that true hospitality endures and reaches beyond kin and one’s own community; it extends to the stranger, the newcomer, the outsider. …

During 2014 I will be encouraging the widest possible discussion of ethics in every aspect of our lives, nationally and globally. This will, I hope, make a contribution towards moving beyond a version of our society and economy that has brought so much hardship, required so much sacrifice.