seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)

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The Forest of Dunbrody

forest-of-dunbrodyIn tribute to emigrants who sailed to the New World on coffin ships, Coillte, a state-sponsored company in Ireland, announces on October 29, 1998 plans for the establishment of a forest plantation, the Forest of Dunbrody, on the outskirts of New Ross, County Wexford. The public, and particularly Irish Americans, are invited to buy a tree in the name of their loved ones. A total of 25,000 trees are planted, comprising species such as ash, oak, larch and Douglas fir.

The purpose of the plantation is to replace timbers used in the construction of the Dunbrody, a 176-foot-long replica of the Famine emigrant ships which left Ireland in the 1840s. The ship, which weighs 458 tonnes, is the culmination of a two-year, £4 million project, the inspiration of the JFK Trust.

The ship is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody which operated out of New Ross, in all but its electrical and navigational equipment. It immediately proves to be a tourist attraction with over 30,000 visitors witnessing the traditional skills of 19th-century shipbuilding being carried out by a team of 30 trainees of Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS), the Irish National Training and Employment Authority, and an international team of shipwrights.

One of the trainee shipwrights, James Grennan, is a fourth cousin of the former President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Grennan is also one of the crew of the Dunbrody.

Coillte, which had up to this point already sponsored much of the timber for the project, decides to establish a plantation of the same name as the ship after members of the building crew express an interest and as a demonstration of wood as a renewable resource.

After years of tireless effort the Dunbrody is finally ready to launch. Early on the morning of February 11, 2001 the gates of the dry dock are opened and the Dunbrody floats to her lines, ready to take her pace at the Quay of New Ross. The launch ceremony is attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former United States Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.


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Irish Race Convention of 1916

hotel-astor-nycThe third Irish Race Convention is held in New York City on March 4, 1916 and serves as an immediate call for the Easter Rebellion in Dublin. Previous conventions were held in Chicago (1881) and Dublin (1896). The Irish Race Conventions are a disconnected series of conventions held in Europe and the Americas between 1881 and 1994. The main participants and financial supporters of the conventions are usually Irish Americans.

The 1916 convention, comprising 2,300 delegates at the Hotel Astor, is held six weeks before the Easter Rising, and considers the division between the home Rule parties and the more militant nationalists. The Rising would be supported by Clan na Gael, but other members remain hopeful that the 1914 Home Rule Act, which had been passed but suspended during World War I, might work.

A majority at the convention support the American policy of neutrality during the war, and are opposed to any alliance with Britain. Woodrow Wilson wins the United States presidential election in 1916 with help from Irish Americans and his campaign slogan of “He kept us out of War.”

An important result is the formation of the “Friends of Irish Freedom” that work as a coordinating body to support “the independence of Ireland, the industrial development of Ireland, the use and sale of Irish products, and to revive Irish culture.”

(Pictured: Hotel Astor, located in the Times Square area of Manhattan, New York City. The hotel was demolished in 1967 and replaced with the 54-story high-rise office tower One Astor Plaza.)


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Founding of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland

american-committee-for-relief-in-irelandThe American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI) is founded through the initiative of Dr. William J. Maloney and others on December 16, 1920, with the intention of giving financial assistance to civilians in Ireland who have been injured or suffer severe financial hardship due to the ongoing Irish War of Independence.

The Committee is only one of several U.S. based philanthropic organisations that emerge following World War I with a view to influencing the post-war settlement from their perspective of social justice, economic development and long term stability in Europe. Some of them concentrate their efforts on events in Ireland, and while activists of Irish ethnicity are well represented, membership is far from confined to Americans of Irish heritage. Apart from the ACRI, bodies such as the American Commission on Irish Independence and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland raise money and attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy in a manner sympathetic to the goal of Irish secession from the United Kingdom.

This period of Irish political radicalism coincides with a Red Scare in the United States. Jim Larkin, an Irish trade unionist, who has been closely associated with James Connolly in Ireland and with the Wobblies in the U.S., is serving a five-year sentence in Sing Sing prison for promoting his socialist agenda. While his political views differ fundamentally from most of the Sinn Féin leadership, Irish republicanism is seen by many of the American establishment as based on a questionable ideology. During the Irish War of Independence, the activities of Irish-American fund-raising organisations are viewed with suspicion and kept under close scrutiny by the intelligence services including J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. policy towards Irish concerns, initially hostile or at best indifferent, become somewhat less so following the 1920 U.S. presidential election and the landslide victory of Warren G. Harding over James M. Cox.

Following the burning of parts of Cork on December 11, 1920 by elements of the British security forces known as the Black and Tans, approaches are made by the city’s Lord Mayor, Donal O’Callaghan, to the American Red Cross for humanitarian assistance. The society, having taken advice from President Woodrow Wilson, the British embassy, the Foreign Office and the British Red Cross, decline at this time to act on his appeal. Numerous organisations and committees across the United States, operating independently in raising humanitarian aid money for Ireland realise that their funds will not be channelled through the U.S. Committee of the Red Cross and so another distribution channel is needed.

Five days after the inferno at Cork, a widely publicised meeting takes place at the Banker’s Club in New York City. It is organised by William Maloney with the intention of establishing a single nationwide organisation. It will have as its goal, explicitly and solely for the purpose of humanitarian relief, the raising and distribution in Ireland of $10 million. The body which soon emerges styles itself “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland.” One of its founding members, Levi Hollingsworth Wood, approaches a Dublin-based businessman and fellow Quaker, James Douglas, requesting his assistance in the local distribution of the funds on a non-partisan basis. In Ireland, Douglas speaks with Laurence O’Neill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who in turn contacts senior members of Sinn Féin to inform them of the wishes of the American Committee. These meetings culminate in the establishment of the Irish White Cross, for the purpose of local distribution of the Committee’s funds.


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The Broad Street Riot

The Broad Street Riot, a massive brawl between Irish Americans and Yankee firefighters, occurs in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1837. At the time of this particular riot, nearly all of Boston’s firefighters are volunteers.

Boston is a major center for immigration in the 19th century due to its large seaport. Nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment is strong, especially among working-class men whose jobs and wages are threatened by an influx of poor Irish immigrants. On Broad Street, it is common for groups of nativist Yankees to vandalize Irish homes and attack lone Irishmen.

At about 3:00 PM on Sunday, June 11, 1837, Fire Engine Company 20 returns to their station on East Street from a fire at the Boston Neck. Some of the men go straight home from there, however most stop at a nearby pub for drinks. The pub is apparently operating illegally as it is a Sunday and, in Massachusetts, blue laws are then in effect.

The men have just emerged from the pub “in a more or less bellicose mood,” when they collide with a crowd of about a hundred Irishmen who are on their way to join a large funeral procession on Sea Street. Nearly all of the firefighters pass through the crowd without incident, however, when 19-year-old George Fay, who has reportedly had too much to drink, insults or shoves several of the Irishmen, and a fight breaks out. Fay’s friends rush to his aid, but the firemen are outnumbered and are badly beaten. Their foreman, W.W. Miller, orders them back into the firehouse.

By some accounts, the Irishmen then take over the firehouse. According to others, the crowd had begun to disperse, and the matter might have ended there had the foreman not “lost his head completely.” In any case, Miller orders his men to sound the emergency alarm. First they roll their wagon into the street, ringing the fire alarm bell. Then Miller sends men to ring the church bells, summoning all the fire engines in Boston. According to the Boston Transcript, Miller then runs to another firehouse, shouting, “The Irish have risen upon us, and are going to kill us!”

Company 9, responding to what they think is a legitimate fire alarm, arrives just as the funeral procession is turning onto New Broad Street. Their horse-drawn wagon veers into the crowd, scattering and knocking down the mourners. The Irish assume the assault is deliberate, and another brawl erupts. As more fire companies arrive, and Irishmen pour out of nearby houses into the street to help their friends and relatives, the fight escalates into a full-blown riot. Before long, an estimated 800 men are doing battle with sticks, stones, bricks, and cudgels while at least 10,000 more urged them on. Protestant workmen come running to the aid of the firefighters, while underfoot, injured and unconscious men lay sprawled on the pavement.

Outnumbered, the Irish are defeated and driven back to their homes. That is when the home invasions begin. A “gang of stout boys and loafers” raid nearby houses, breaking doors and windows, and in some cases beating the occupants. Furniture and other possessions are destroyed and thrown into the street. Some Irish families lose their homes altogether.

After raging for about three hours, the riot is quelled when Mayor Samuel Atkins Eliot calls in the National Lancers, a newly formed cavalry company, and some 800 other members of the state militia with fixed bayonets. Among them are the Montgomery Guards, a short-lived Irish American infantry company which is forced to disband the following year due to the extreme nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment in Boston.

No immediate deaths result from the violence. Many people suffer serious wounds, however, and there is no nearby hospital to care for them. Given the lack of hospital and police records, the number of people who eventually die of their injuries cannot be determined. Thousands of dollars in damage is done to property belonging to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants.

The militia, being composed nearly entirely of Yankees, arrest 34 Irishmen and 4 Yankees. A grand jury indicts 14 of the Irishmen and all four of the Yankees. At the municipal court trial, a Yankee jury acquits the four Yankees and convicts four Irishmen, three of whom are sentenced to several months of hard labor.

Three months later, in September, Mayor Eliot establishes a professional, paid fire department, with all new hires requiring the approval of the mayor and aldermen. The Boston Police Department is established the following year.


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Birth of John Millington Synge, Poetic Dramatist

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, is born at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually causes his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from Kerry to Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.


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The American Civil War Begins

The American Civil War begins on April 12, 1861. There is perhaps no other ethnic group so closely identified with the Civil War years and the immediate aftermath of the war as Irish Americans.

Of those Irish who come over much later than the founding generations, fully 150,000 of them join the Union army. Unfortunately, statistics for the Confederacy are sketchy at best. Still, one has but to listen to the Southern accent and listen to the sorts of tunes Southern soldiers love to sing to realize that a great deal of the South is settled by Irish immigrants. But because the white population of the Confederate states is more native-born than immigrant during the Civil War years, there does not seem as much of a drive in the Southern army to recognize heritage in the names and uniforms of regiments as there is in the Union forces.

In the Union army there is the fabled Irish Brigade, likely the best known of any brigade organization, organized in 1861 and led by the flamboyant General Thomas Francis Meagher. They go into battle with an emerald green flag with a large golden harp in its center, celebrating their heritage even in the midst of death. The Irish Brigade makes an unusual reputation for dash and gallantry. It belongs to the First Division of the Second Corps, and is numbered as the Second Brigade. The Irish Brigade loses over 4,000 men in killed and wounded during the war, more men than ever belong to the brigade at any given time. The Irish Brigade is commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thomas A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

In the North, centers of Irish settlement are Boston and New York, both of which have sizeable Irish neighborhoods. There are major immigration periods in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. The numbers steadily increase until, according to the 1860 census, well over one and a half million Americans claimed to have been born in Ireland. The majority of these live in the North. There are periods of severe economic difficulties both before and after the war when the immigrant Irish are singled out for the distrust and hatred of their fellow Americans. “No Irish Need Apply” is a frequently seen placard sign above the doors of factories, shops, warehouses, and farms.

The Irish are chiefly distrusted because they are Catholic, and there is much opposition in the United States to the Church of Rome. The frustration this prejudice causes leads indirectly to the boil-over of tempers in July 1863, when the first official draft is held. A mob of mostly immigrant laborers gather at the site of the draft lottery, and as names are called and those not wealthy enough to purchase a substitute are required to join up, the mob’s temper flares.

The situation escalates into full-scale rioting. For three days, cities like New York and Boston are caught up in a rampage of looting, burning, and destruction. Many of the rioters are frustrated Irish laborers who cannot get jobs, and their targets are draft officials, as well as free blacks living in the North, who seem able to get jobs that the Irish are denied. It takes the return of armed troops from the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg to bring the cities back to peace and quiet.

Such events do little to help the image of the Irish in America, until many years after the war. Despite their wartime heroics, many Irish veterans come home to find the same ugly bias they faced before going off to fight for the Union. Many of them choose to go into the post war army.

Still others follow Thomas Meagher into Canada, where they join up in an attempt to free Canada from British domination. Many simply choose to remain in the Eastern cities, hoping matters will improve as time goes by. Eventually things do get better for the Irish, but it is many long years before ugly anti-Irish prejudice fades.