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St. Patrick’s service for Berkeley victims

POSTED ON June 22nd  - POSTED IN News & Views

St Patricks Cathedral

By Ray O’Hanlon

With funerals taking place in Ireland this week for four of the six Berkeley balcony collapse victims, a service of remembrance for the dead will be held this Thursday, June 25, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.

The service will start at 6.30 p.m.

Over the past few days, books of condolence have been opened at the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center offices in the Bronx and in Woodside, and in the New York Irish Center in Long Island City.

The condolence books and service are but a part of the wider mourning for the loss of the six students in the balcony collapse which occurred early Tuesday morning, June 16.

The funeral of the Irish American victim, Ashley Donohoe, was held on Saturday in conjunction with a funeral for her cousin, Olivia Burke, who was then flown back to Ireland for burial.

The coffins carrying the remains of Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eoghan Culligan and Eimear Walsh arrived in Ireland on Sunday on an Aer Lingus flight from San Francisco.

While there has been an enormous outpouring of public grief Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan, has asked that the privacy of the families of the victims be respected.

“It is essential that the families of the victims of the Berkeley tragedy be given the space they need to grieve. I appeal for their privacy to be fully respected,” Flanagan said.

And a statement was issued by the Irish Consulate San Francisco on behalf of the families of Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh.

It read in part: “As we leave Berkeley and return home to Ireland with our beloved sons and daughters, Eimear, Eoghan, Lorcan and Niccolai, we would like to thank everyone in America and Ireland for their sympathy and support, which has been a tremendous comfort to us at this tragic time.

“Particularly we thank the local authorities, emergency services, medical staff, parishes and communities of Berkeley. In addition we are forever grateful to the Irish Consul, Philip Grant, and his local team, and also the amazing service and support received from Aer Lingus, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Anne Anderson, and a special appreciation to Minister Deenihan.

“We cannot thank enough the students that were in the apartment and apartment complex that night. The manner and speed at which they reached out to our families, to our Consul, and to each other was faultless. Our children were extraordinarily blessed in their friends and we are enormously proud of them.

“The sympathy and responses of friends of our sons and daughters, the wider group of students on J1 visas and the program’s sponsoring Agencies (USIT, SAYIT, CIEE and InterExchange) is a testament to their popularity, and to the closeness of these groups from school and university.

“The Irish communities of the Bay Area – coordinated by Fr. Brendan McBride, Fr Aidan McAleenan, Celine Kennelly and their colleagues at the Irish Immigration and Pastoral Center – have been a constant source of support and comfort.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Donohue family and Ashley, who was laid to rest today in Sonoma, the Burke family and Olivia, and with Aoife, Clodagh, Connor, Hannah, Jack, Sean and Niall who remain in hospital and with their families, we wish them a speedy recovery.

“We very much appreciate the support and sympathy that has been expressed, but now we ask for privacy so that we can mourn the sudden and tragic passing of our beloved sons and daughters, with the dignity that they deserve.”

Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan had flown to San Francisco last week to represent the Irish government. He said the six who had died had “become the children of Ireland.”

Meanwhile, condolences have continued to flow from organizations and individuals.

The US-Ireland Alliance, which runs the Mitchell Scholarship program that annually sends U.S. students to Ireland, said in a statement: “Everyone associated with the Mitchell Scholarship program is saddened by the deaths of six Irish students in Berkeley.

“Educational exchanges and summer work programs allow to come to know each other as individuals and strengthen the ties between our countries. We send our condolences and our thoughts and prayers are with the injured.”

The Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library in Phoenix, Arizona also expressed shock and sadness

“As members of the extended Irish family within the United States, the Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Library cannot fully express in words the extent of the sorrow we feel for the students and families who lost their loved ones or were injured in Tuesday morning’s balcony collapse.”

Adams extends condolences on deaths in Berkeley

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams extended his condolences to the family and friends of those killed and injured.

He has also commended the efforts of Irish America in its support for the victims and their families.

Speaking in the Dáil Adams said: On behalf of Sinn Féin I want to extend my deepest condolences to the families of the six students who were killed and the seven others who were injured when a balcony collapsed in Berkeley.

“The suddenness of the accident and the extent of the tragedy has shocked the people of Ireland and people in the USA.

I welcome and commend the efforts and support of Minister Flanagan and the Department of the Foreign Affairs. I want to commend also the work of our Consul General in San Francisco, Philip Grant, who with his staff are providing support for the injured and the bereaved families.

I also commend the support and assistance of the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O Malley, and I welcome the Taoiseach’s initiative in asking the Minister of the Diaspora to represent us all.

I want to acknowledge the work of the Irish community and our diaspora in the Bay Area for their support for our young people and their families.”

CD joins ranks of session classics

POSTED ON June 22nd  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure, News & Views

cd cover

By Daniel Neely

There’s a pub in Camden Town, London, called the Good Mixer where the Britpop scene has gone to drink, fight and carry on for the better part of the last two decades. If you wanted to rub elbows with the likes of Oasis, Blur or Amy Winehouse, the Good Mixer was your spot. However, in the latter half of the 1980s, before it was a haven for rockers, it was the home of what seems to have been one of Irish music’s great pub sessions.

“The Good Mixer” is also the name of a new album that memorializes the Good Mixer’s session. Recorded in 1989 at John Carty’s house as the session itself was drawing to a close, the album features its four primaries, Carty, banjo; Noel O’Grady, bouzouki; Henry Benagh, fiddle; and Marcus Hernon, flute (select tracks featuring Bernadette McCarthy, piano), all playing with great connectedness at an incredibly high level. The result is an utterly brilliant album that lovers of Irish music (and of session playing in particular) will want to know about, not just because it’s an important historical document, but because the music it contains is electrifying.

Pub sessions are a fascinating phenomenon and seem to be a fairly recent addition to the fabric of Irish musical life. A by-product of increased immigration after World War II, they appear to have taken root first outside of Ireland, when playing inside the home wasn’t always practical. London was an important home for Irish music in the late 1940s and early ‘50s and Camden’s pubs (like The Bedford Arms on Arlington Road, as we learn from the LP “Irish Music in London Pubs” [Asch Records, 1965]) were particularly important because they were where the Irish immigrant community could go to convene socially and musically.

A similar thing happened in New York in this post-War era. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, flute players Jack Coen and Mike Flynn played on Fridays at a spot called The New Manhattan Pub, while Paddy Reynolds and Andy McGann ran things at Healy’s Pub in the Bronx.

By the 1960s, the pub session had become a somewhat more common thing, with the king of them all happening at the legendary London pub called the Favorite on Queensland Road, Holloway. It was where Martin Byrnes, Bobby Casey, Julia Clifford and Jimmy Power all played and the place where the seminal “Paddy in the Smoke” album was recorded.

Since then, pub sessions have sprung up all over the world and are now nearly synonymous with Irish music. Recordings like “Maiden Voyage” (Pepper’s in Feakle, Co. Clare), “Live at Mona’s” (Mona’s, NYC), and “Music at Matt Molloy’s” (Matt Molloy’s in Westport, Co. Mayo) have documented some of the best in nuanced, artistic fashion. While “The Good Mixer” is not technically a “pub session” recording, is absolutely cut from the same cloth and stands tall alongside these classic session albums.

This is a must-have album for trad fans. I won’t pick out a favorite track, because there’s not a clunker among them, but this really isn’t album about individual tracks, it’s about the way four top players got together and made tight, boundless music with great abandon. Carty sounds magisterial on the banjo. His little touches are brilliant and reflect a nimble musical mind. Hernon’s tone is rich and powerful and his superior sense of phrasing sets him apart. The lovely flow in Benagh’s playing articulates wonderfully with the other melody players, and it sits beautifully in O’Grady groove, which really pulls the tune together. It’s magical stuff.

This is one of the best albums of traditional Irish you’re likely to come across. The music is raw and driving with a spirit that tells a story about Irish music in London at a particular moment in time. The recording will surely bring back memories for those who were lucky enough to experience the Good Mixer in the 1980s, but it also gives the rest of us a beguiling taste of what it was like to be there. Definitely one for the collection. For more information, visit

For more on Daniel Neely,  the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent, go to

‘It’s nice to be first’: Enright

POSTED ON June 19th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

Anne Enright (c) Hugh Chaloner

The multiple-awarding winning novelist Anne Enright was named in January to the new official position of laureate for Irish fiction. PHOTO: HUGH CHALONER

By Orla O’Sullivan

“You’re a different person every time you sit down to write,” said Anne Enright, Ireland’s first laureate for Irish fiction. “It’s always about, ‘What’s life asking me now?’”

The question behind her latest novel, “The Green Road,” is “Why are selfish people unhappy?” said the author known to many for “The Gathering,” her sixth novel, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2007.

It is subtly posed in a story that starts and effectively ends in West Clare, when Rosaleen Madigan summons her far-flung adult children to announce that she is selling the family home. The four have little in common besides an understanding of how impossible their mother is. One chapter opens: “Rosaleen told [daughter] Constance she did not want a [Christmas] present this year. She said it in a faint voice, meaning she would be dead soon so what was the point?”

No, Rosaleen isn’t an archetypal Irish mother—the martyr sitting in the dark, Enright said, adding with a reference to Dublin’s largest maternity hospital, “There isn’t a mind-melding machine in Holles Street to become an Irish mammy.”

The questions that seem of least interest to Enright are those from journalists, on whom she passed several comments during our meeting in a Dublin cafe. Between the new book and the laureate role she has been doing many interviews and giving many speeches, she said, adding that she has learned to ad lib, instead of spending three days writing each speech.

Yes, it’s true that she began writing after a nervous breakdown in her late 20s, said Enright, now 52, “… but if I knew I was going to be talking to so many journalists I wouldn’t have mentioned it. I’m just really bored with it.”

So what is her most hated question? “It isn’t so much a hated question but I’m intrigued at how interested the media is in general with success and failure. Or if you base your fiction on real people.”

The laureate appointment was announced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny at an Arts Council ceremony in January. He said: “Anne Enright’s eloquent and powerful writing, fiercely individual voice and unyielding commitment to her craft combined to make her the pre-eminent choice.

The novelist herself has described the role as “half a job, half an honor.” She will serve for three years and receive an annual stipend of €50,000 from the Art Council.

“Enda Kenny said it’s an ambassadorial role,” Enright said, adding, however, that “Irish writers are not expected to be well behaved or to perform.”

Irish readers, meanwhile, she said, are both proud of Irish writers and have “a complicated relationship” with them. “They say, ‘I knew your sister,’ or ‘I wish you’d stop writing about this and write about that.’” (Her former local paper the Bray People, once ran a sweetly proprietorial headline that said merely “Anne shortlisted for Man Booker Prize.”)

Ireland’s literary ambassador is concerned about digital publishing, particularly diminishing concentration spans. “The number of people who’ve told me ‘Oh, I have your book on my nightstand.’ I know what that means, they’re on their iPhones.”

In accepting the laureate title, Enright said it was about future writers, “who will each play a briefly emblematic role in the history of Irish letters.” Just she and her family knew last Christmas that she would be Ireland’s first laureate for fiction, which made, she said, for “a very nice Christmas. It’s nice to be first.”

Enright is married to a theatre director, Martin Murphy, and has two children, one of whom was sitting the Junior Cert exams the week we met. She herself is the youngest of five and grew up in Terenure, in South Dublin, believing from early on that she would be a writer.

“I forgot you have to actually write a book,” Enright said, adding that she was not prepared for how hard it would be. She wrote her first, a collection of short stories called “The Portable Virgin,” on weekends while working weekdays as a television producer. She was then producing children’s television for RTE, where she had previously produced an experimental arts/comedy show called “Nighthawks.”

Motherhood made writing easier, Enright said, allowing her to go from being “hugely anxious” about writing to now finding it a “source of great pleasure.” Any tendency to be precious was offset by “bills to pay” and the fact that “Books aren’t the most important thing anymore; the most important thing is right there in front of you.

“As a writer you just make things up. I sort of know now that I can make it up.”

The creation of one of characters in “The Green Road” seems prescient in that he is a gay Irish man getting married—and the book came out in May, the month that Ireland made history by becoming the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum.

Enright began creating him three years ago. Dan abandoned the priesthood for New York’s East Village–very convincingly rendered although Enright has never lived in New York.

She will be in the Village next spring to teach at New York University as part of her laureate brief. “I’m trying to sort out where we’re going to live and where the kids will go to school. You have to sign your lease and then apply for schools,” she said.

Improvising is surely second nature for someone who says she starts novels without a structure in mind. And the conversation detours into perhaps a preview of her course at NYU while Enright generously offers advice: “What’s your problem with structure? If you’ve a problem with structure you write and you revise. When Beethoven sat down to write his Fifth Symphony he didn’t have it all in his head. The only thing that matters is the sentence on the page.”


Families arrive to bring loved ones home

POSTED ON June 19th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

18/06/2015. Book Of Condolences. Pictured Presiden







President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina signing the book of condolences at the Mansion House in Dublin

By Ray O’Hanlon

As families of those who died and who were injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse began arriving in San Francisco, tributes were being paid to the dead and injured on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the same time, a torrent of criticism has been directed at the New York Times for a report that appeared to relate the balcony collapse to incidents in the past involving Irish J-1 students.

The report prompted critical comment from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and letters to the editor from both former Irish President Mary McAleese, and Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson.

Two critical letters, though not from McAleese or Anderson, were carried by the Times letters page today, Thursday.

Meanwhile, the all too short lives of the six dead students have been the focus of most reporting in the past couple of days, including a report today in the New York Times.

Five of the students were from the South County Dublin area and were students at University College Dublin, the Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Dun Laoghaire Institute or Art, Design and Technology.

When in high school the five had attended St. Mary’s College in Rathmines, St. Andrew’s College in Booterstown and Loreto Convent in Foxrock, all in south Dublin.

Those who died were: Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe and Lorcan Miller (21).

The J-1 students were from the South County Dublin area and were celebrating a 21st birthday when the tragedy occurred.

Ashley Donohoe was Irish American. She was from Santa Rosa in the Bay Area, was studying at Sonoma State University and was a cousin of Olivia Burke.

The sense of shock at the ending of such young and purposeful lives has been deeply felt in both the U.S. and Ireland.

In Dublin, the Dáil went into recess and a book of condolences was opened in the Mansion House.

In California, State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said that she will ask the California Senate to adjourn in memory of the students.

Senator Hancock, whose husband, Tom Bates, is the Mayor of Berkeley, said she would present her request on the Senate floor at the conclusion of the regular session today.

Senator Hancock, according to a release from her office, will ask her fellow senators to join her in memorializing the dead students. She will then read out their names.

“Our hearts go out to their families as well as to the other young people who were seriously injured in the accident. We pray for their recovery,” Senator Hancock will state in her adjournment request.

And she will continue: “This tragedy touches every family in Ireland and the horror of it is being felt deeply across that entire country today. There is a very specific reason for that: Every Irish family is touched by this horrific incident because these young people were following in a long-running tradition that brings thousands of young Irish people to California every year.

“They take a break from college to come here on temporary visas offered by the U.S. government to participate in the federal Work Travel program, which allows students to live and work in this country for up to four months. In the Bay area, they land summer jobs on Fisherman’s Wharf and in department stores, restaurants and coffee shops throughout the region. They work with and interact with Americans day in and day out.

“They come to experience American life, learn about American culture and then return to their studies and their country with a better understanding of what America is. They – in effect – become some of the best Ambassadors for this country, which is why so many follow in their footsteps. They return full of hope and idealism and positive feeling about America, which they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“As some of you know, I have been involved with Ireland for several years and have travelled there to meet with Irish political and cultural leaders, peace activists and community bridge-builders on both sides of the Irish border. I was always struck by the openness and warmth of the people and their willingness to extend an open hand to those in need and across religious and political boundaries. Today, we need to extend a loving embrace back to the families of these young people.

“Berkeley and Ireland have been linked from birth as the city takes its name from Ireland’s Bishop George Berkeley. It pains me that we will now be forever united in an even more profound way as a result of this tragedy: united in sadness and anguish for the loss of these young lives. But let us ensure, in our embrace of their heartbroken families and their grieving nation, that Ireland’s bond with Berkeley and indeed with California will remain a source of solidarity and solace.

“I ask the Senate to adjourn in memory of these wonderful young people and their families, and for the people of Ireland.”

Meanwhile, as family members arrive so too will Irish Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan.
Speaking before his departure from Dublin, Minister Deenihan said: “The tragic loss of six young lives at the beginning of a summer in California which should have been filled with new experiences, new opportunities and new friends, is simply heart breaking.

“At this profoundly difficult time, on behalf of the Government, I want to stand with our young J1 community in Berkeley and express solidarity with the families of the bereaved, the injured and all those affected by this terrible tragedy.

“When I meet with representatives of the Irish community in Berkeley, local residents and the local U.S. authorities, I will take the opportunity to express deep appreciation, on behalf of the government and the people of Ireland, for the generous support and assistance they have offered to those affected by this devastating accident. Their cooperation with the dedicated team at our consulate is enormously important in helping us to deliver practical support to those affected.”

Even as families gather to mourn the dead and comfort the seven students serious injured in the balcony collapse early Tuesday morning, reports continue to focus on the balcony itself was attached to the apartment building by wooden joists which, multiple reports have indicated, were compromised by dry rot.

Reported the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday morning: “The investigation into the cause of the Berkeley apartment balcony collapse that killed six people and injured seven focused Wednesday on the company that constructed the building — a firm that has paid more than $6 million in the past two years to settle lawsuits claiming its work caused balconies to rot prematurely and fail.

“Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said there was ‘high probability’ that water had penetrated and rotted the wooden underpinnings of the balcony that broke away early Tuesday. Officials ordered a second balcony removed from the same building Wednesday because it was ‘structurally unsafe,’ and Bates said its problems were similar to those suspected in the collapse.

“Court documents show that Segue Construction Inc., the Pleasanton company that built the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St., site of Tuesday’s tragedy, has paid $6.5 million since 2013 to settle a pair of lawsuits alleging problems like those apparently at the center of the Berkeley probe.”

The revelations regarding the structural state of the balcony have served to lessen the emphasis on the actual number of students who were standing on it when it gave way.

Initial reports pointed to between 12 and 14 with 13 being thrown onto the street below when the balcony flipped over as it fell.

Subsequent accounts point to a different scenario in which there were fewer standing on the balcony as it began break from the building but with others inside the apartment lunging forward onto the balcony in an effort to save those standing on it.

A clearer picture will emerge as the investigation into the tragedy gathers testimony from survivors and eye witnesses.

The New York Times report that has been strongly criticized focused not only on the tragedy, but on an incident last year in which a number of Irish students were involved in a raucous party that resulted in damage to an apartment.

The reference in the Times story, while accurate, angered many for its timing and in the context it was presented.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, according to an Irish Times report, expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the tone of the article.

Asked to comment on a letter written by former president Mary McAleese to the Times criticizing the article, Mr. Kenny said he fully supported her sentiments.

Mr. Kenny said he was surprised that “such an eminent newspaper” would write such a story in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

“This is a tragic incident and I was very surprised and disappointed to see the tone of the article written by the New York Times, surprised at them,” Mr. Kenny said after a meeting in Downing Street with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr. Cameron, according to the Irish Times, prefaced his remarks by expressing sympathy to relatives and friends of those who had died or had been injured in the accident.

Former president Mary McAleese, in her criticism of the Times, said the journalists who wrote the article on the Berkeley balcony collapse demonstrated a “sociopathic dissociation” from the suffering of family members of the dead and injured.

She said the Times “should be hanging its head in shame” following a report which had termed the J-1 visa exchange program as an “embarrassment to Ireland”.

“It’s so insensitive that I would say it is almost dissociated from any sense of human empathy or human feeling, or a sense of human grief,” she told RTÉ Radio today.

“In this moment of intense grief, these journalists – and it was a team of journalists – they cut and paste these most awful stories which represented the most-minute minority,” she said of references to troublesome parties involving J-1 visa holders which were included in the article.

A J-1 visitor to San Francisco herself in 1971, McAleese described the offending segment of the Times report as “journalism at the absolute worst end of the spectrum; it’s indescribably poorly-constructed in every way.”

She said it would have been more appropriate for the journalists to focus on the structural integrity of the balcony.

New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, said that while the piece in question was “insensitive, it would most likely not be removed from the Times website.

Questions over fatal balcony safety

POSTED ON June 17th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Balcony jpg
The six who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse

By Ray O’Hanlon

Questions were being raised today over the structural integrity of the apartment balcony in Berkeley, California, that collapsed early Tuesday morning and resulted in the deaths of six students, and serious injuries to seven others.

And the names of five Irish J-1 students and one Irish American, a cousin of one of the Irish visitors, have been released.

The dead are: Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe and Lorcan Miller (21).

The J-1 students were from the South County Dublin area and were celebrating a 21st birthday when the tragedy occurred.

Ashley Donohoe was the Irish American victim. She was from Santa Rosa in the Bay Area and a cousin of Olivia Burke.

Four died at the scene and two others were pronounced dead at in hospital, said police.

Some of the survivors are battling life-threatening injuries.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that the small balconies at the Library Gardens apartment complex where the collapse occurred “were designed more as decoration than a sturdy platform to entertain large groups of friends, according to a member of the Berkeley Design Review Committee that approved the project in 2001.”

The Chronicle report stated: “The 176-unit, five-story stucco Library Gardens apartment complex on Kittredge Street in downtown Berkeley came under heavy scrutiny Tuesday morning after six young people, five of them thought to be visiting from Ireland on J-1 student-work visas, fell to their deaths when a fourth-floor balcony collapsed.

“Joshua Kardon, a structural engineer in Berkeley, said that while balconies have collapsed in the past, the accident on Kittredge Street was ‘very disturbing’ because it occurred at a newer building.

“The investigation, he said, will likely look not only at the condition of the wood framing and its ‘failure mechanism,’ but at how the balcony was designed and built — particularly how water would be kept from rotting the wood — and what was found during inspections.”

The tragedy has shocked Ireland where there has been an outpouring of sympathy from political, religious and community leaders.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny read a statement in the Dáil and flags are being flown at half-mast.

Mr. Kenny said his “heart breaks” for the victims and their families.

In an updated statement, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, said his department and the Irish Consulate in San Francisco continued to provide practical support and assistance to the bereaved, the injured, and the students affected by the tragedy.

“Family members of the deceased and injured are travelling to San Francisco today (Wednesday) where they will be met on arrival by a team from our Consulate in San Francisco. A consular team from my department provided support to them at Dublin Airport before they travelled,” said Flanagan.

And he continued: “Our Consulate in San Francisco is working with the local authorities and Irish community organizations to provide transport and accommodation to those who need it. I would like to thank the Irish community in San Francisco, local residents and the local authorities, all of whom have generously offered assistance and support to those affected by this devastating accident.

“We are also conscious that many Irish students were not physically injured, but were left deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of friends and classmates in this terrible accident. The Consulate has worked with local authorities in Berkeley to set up an incident center in Berkeley, where grief counsellors will be on site and people will also have facilities to make phone calls home.

“I would encourage any families who have concerns about any loved ones in San Francisco and who may require these services to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Consular Response Team on +353-1-418-0200.

“Two officers from embassy in Washington have arrived in San Francisco to provide further support to the Consulate team today, while our consulates in New York and Boston are on standby to assist families travelling via those cities.

“To date, the Department’s Consular Emergency Response Centre has handled over 500 calls from concerned family members and friends and we remain ready to respond.”

A report in the Irish Examiner said that two Irish students asleep in the building had said they were awakened by a loud bang.

Mark Neville, who has been in the U.S. with a J-1 visa, said: “I walked out and I saw rubble on the street and a bunch of Irish students crying.”

“I just heard a bang and a lot of shouting,” said Dan Sullivan.

Meanwhile, Berkeley Mayor, Tom Bates, has laid a wreath outside the apartment building.
He did so Tuesday together with Irish Consul General in San Francisco, Philip Grant. A bagpiper played a lament and an Irish tricolor was laid over the wreath.

Mayor Bates has visited Ireland in the past while his wife, Loni Hancock, is a member of the California State Senate.

Senator Hancock is expected to propose the adjournment of the State Senate on Thursday as a mark of condolence for the bereaved families and the Irish people.

Mayor Bates has also expressed his deep sorrow.

“Our hearts go out to the Irish people, and particularly the parents. We’re going to make sure this never happens again,” he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, has given assurances to the families of the injured that they will not have to worry about medical bills.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, and as reported in the Irish Times, Mr. O’Malley said: “I don’t think any of the physicians or nurses or staff will be concerned about their insurance coverage. They will get the very best care that is available, and that is what is important for today.

“The important thing that I take away from this is that this tragedy occurred in a place where some of the best hospitals in the United States happen to operate. Those students need the very best care they can get in the United States, and they are in the best place where it can be delivered to them.”

Given the extent of the injuries suffered by the survivors, medical costs are certain to astronomical.

Ambassador O’Malley said that about 7,000 J-1 visas were issued to Irish students this year, a figure which is typical.

“It is a very significant part of how we have come to understand each other so well and that we have such a warm, deep relationship,” O’Malley said of the J-1 program.

Six dead in Berkeley balcony collapse

POSTED ON June 16th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Collapse jpg
The fourth floor balcony collapsed onto the balcony below and those on it were thrown into the street.

By Ray O’Hanlon

What was to be a night of joy and celebration turned into a nightmare for a group of Irish J-1 students when a balcony in a Berkeley, California apartment complex gave way, pitching it occupants into the street below.

At the time of writing the death toll is six, believed to be all Irish students working in the Bay Area for the summer.

A number of others, and perhaps as many as seven, are reportedly being treated for serious injuries. Some of them are critical.

No identities of the dead and injured were available at the time of writing.

The tragedy occurred shortly after midnight, Pacific Time, Tuesday.

The students had gathered in the apartment to celebrate a 21st birthday.

Reports estimated the number of students on the balcony at the time of the collapse at between 12 and 14.

There was a report, carried by the Irish Independent in Dublin, that the apartment lacked air conditioning, though this remains to be confirmed.

The apartment was close to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Police and emergency workers came upon a horrific scene at the four-story Library Gardens apartment complex 2020 Kittredge St. west of Shattuck Avenue, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The report continued: “Four people died at the scene. At 5:45 a.m. their bodies remained outside the building while authorities awaited the arrival of the medical examiner. The fifth victim died at a hospital, police said.

“The building was constructed within the past few years, said Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police Department spokesman. The reason for the collapse was not known. Police were in contact with the building’s owner, White said.

“Double French doors led from the building to the balcony. Shredded wood and insulation was visible where the balcony had been attached. The structure itself landed on the third-floor balcony below,” the Chronicle report added.

As news of the collapse spread, the Irish government alerted the Irish Consulate in San Francisco, which is now providing assistance to victims and the families whose members were caught up in the tragedy.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, released a statement.

He said: “It is with great sadness that I confirm that a number of young Irish citizens have lost their lives while a number of others have been seriously injured following the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley, California earlier today.

“My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling incident. My department in Dublin stands ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the Irish citizens affected by this tragedy.

“Our Consul General in San Francisco is in close contact with the authorities and will be providing assistance to those affected on the ground.

“It is too early to know the full extent of this dreadful accident but I have opened my department’s consular crisis center and activated our emergency response line so we can provide assistance and guidance to the families of those affected and to others who have concerns. Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region should call the emergency consular response team on +353 1 418 0200.”

Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Diaspora Affairs, also offered issued a statement.

“The loss of life in such tragic circumstances is an enormous blow to the families involved and to the country. Our thoughts are with these families and with those who have been injured,” Deenihan said.

The U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, also released a statement.

“I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the families, loved one, and friends of the Irish student who lost their live this morning in Berkeley, California.

“All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by the news of this tragedy and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends at this difficult time,” O’Malley said.

In New York, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center also expressed shock and sympathy.

The EIIC said in part in its statement, which was directed at J-1 students: “The Emerald Isle Immigration Center wishes to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of all the victims of the tragic accident in Berkeley, California. We understand that some of you may be affected by this. If you feel you need to speak to someone, please contact the EIIC at (718)478-5502, Olive Lyons, Ext. 203, or Caitriona Howley, EXT. 220.”

A salute to William and James

POSTED ON June 15th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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The invitation illustration for Tuesday’s celebration of WB Yeats and James Joyce at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. The image was the winning entry in a competition organized by the Irish Embassy, and is the work of Barrie Maguire.

By Ray O’Hanlon

The cultural world is this week saluting William and James.

And though the celebration is centered in Ireland, it has nothing to do with the protagonists at the Battle of the Boyne.

Rather, the William and James on the minds of so many around the globe are William Butler Yeats and James Joyce.

The 150th anniversary of the birth of the former has been observed in recent days while Tuesday will see Bloomsday celebrations in many countries in honor of James Joyce.

Much of the celebrating, as it always is, will be in the United States.

And this year, in addition to the many gatherings and events in cities such as New York, there will be an especially significant celebration of both Yeats and Joyce in the nation’s capital.

On Bloomsday, Tuesday June 16, there will be a lunchtime open air public concert at Dupont Circle, from 12.30 to 1.30 p.m., featuring music and readings from the works of Joyce and Yeats.

The event is being organized by the Irish Embassy.

“We are encouraging people to join us for a lunchtime picnic as we recreate a typical Bloomsday event. There will even be bike riders in Edwardian dress,” said an embassy statement.

The readings at Dupont Circle will be by Gregory Baker, Assistant Professor of English, Director of Irish Studies Catholic University of America; Christopher Griffin, Professor of English, George Washington University; Coilin Owens, Professor Emeritus, English Department, George Mason University, and Fionnuala Quinn, organizer of the annual Washington D.C. Bloomsday Bike Rally.

Music is being provided by John Feeley, Ireland’s leading classical guitarist, and Fran O’Rourke, a singer and professor of philosophy at University College Dublin, who will perform a selection of music related to Joyce and Yeats.

Both are also performing at an evening event at the Cosmos Club being hosted by Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S., Anne Anderson.

Congressman Richard Neal, Senator Ed Markey and Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, will read two Yeats poems each.

Terry Cross-Davis of the Folger Shakespeare Library will do a reading from “Ulysses.”

In addition, a short play involving an encounter between Yeats and Joyce has been written for the evening event by Joe Hassettt, an attorney and Yeats scholar.

Thoor Ballylee, the Gort, County Galway 16th-century Hiberno-Norman tower house, once owned by Yeats, will reopen this summer following a donation of €30,000 from Mr. Hassett.

Pataki can count on Irish GOP support

POSTED ON June 12th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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George Pataki

By Ray O’Hanlon

Either the world and its mother is pursuing the Republican Party nomination for next year’s presidential election, or “the mother” part of that total is the only one taking a pass.

But it’s a mother who gives former New York governor George Pataki an entry card to Irish America as he works to gather support for his own, lately unveiled, presidential ambition.

The GOP field is crowded, and will soon be more crowded still.

Pataki’s recently launched candidacy has yet to attract top ten status, the required entry card to a planned pre-primaries GOP candidate debate on Fox television.

But in his home state, Pataki is gaining traction.

The three-term governor heads the Republican field in the Empire State along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, this according to a recently released opinion poll from Quinnipiac University.

Pataki and Rubio are tied at 11 percent each. Jeb Bush is at ten percent.

Polls this early are not always reliable and much in the race could change, reported the New York Observer.

But Pataki, who is at the back of the pack nationally, could gain traction and win his old state outright, the weekly surmised.

And he might do well in New Hampshire too.

Pataki has been focusing on the Granite State in the early stages of his bid and there enjoys a key advantage over the Republican pack: he, at least, is a north easterner.

He is also Irish American in addition to his Hungarian heritage.

Pataki was born in 1945, a hundred years after the outbreak of the Great Hunger in Ireland.

Fifty years after his birth, as Irish America steeled itself to mark an especially solemn anniversary, Pataki was governor of New York, a state that had been a crucial refuge for the Famine Irish.

So when it came to marking the 150th anniversary it didn’t matter a whit that Pataki’s name was indeed Hungarian. He had Irish on his mother Margaret’s side.

And besides, the man born on the banks of the Hudson seemed ready, and more than able, to grasp the significance of an event that was bitterly remembered by some, but sidelined and largely ignored by mainstream America.

More than that, it turned out he was ready to call people to account for it.
George Pataki’s rise to prominence in the Republican Party had a lot to do with his habit of bucking tradition and challenging the accepted ways of doing things.

This wrapped Pataki in an aura of freshness in the eyes of voters who gave him the nod to replace Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo in the 1994 gubernatorial election. Voters would do so again in two subsequent elections.

For Irish Americans loyal to both parties, the arrival of Pataki brought with it a moment of uncertainty.

When it came to Ireland, Irish American Democrats and Republicans in New York tended to aim for common ground. Cuomo had drawn plaudits from both camps for his Irish positions, not least his support of the MacBride Principles campaign.

Cuomo’s predecessor had been Hugh Carey, one of the “Four Horsemen.”

In the wake of both these men, Pataki, who didn’t hail from a New York City borough, but from Peekskill in Westchester County, was a largely unknown quantity on Ireland and Irish issues.
This state of affairs wouldn’t last for long.

Albany can be a murky place when it comes to politics and odd things can happen.
In 1995, someone in the capital’s bureaucracy inserted an obscure provision into Pataki’s first budget that, if implemented, would have terminated the state’s MacBride Principles compliance law.

But, unlike the recent turn of events in Florida, the rescinding provision was spotted and Pataki, who had voted for the MacBride bill as a state legislator, struck it from the budget.

Support for the fair employment guidelines might have been the high point of Pataki’s Irish policy but the freshman governor was now on a collision course with the British government, not over jobs in Northern Ireland, but over an historical wrong about to be writ large once again.

For years, Irish-American educators and activists had been urging inclusion of the Famine as a social studies subject in New York’s public schools curriculum.

The 150th anniversary placed the issue front and center and when legislation was drawn up in Albany, Pataki, in the fall of 1996, had no problem signing the legislation into law.

He did not content himself with a moniker, however.

At the signing ceremony, Pataki accused British authorities during the Famine years of carrying out a “deliberate campaign” aimed at denying the starving Irish the food they needed to survive.

Pataki’s words prompted a furious letter from then British ambassador to the United States, John Kerr.

The ambassador’s broadside, and the governor’s response, turned into arguably the biggest dustup between New Yorkers and the British since the Battle of Saratoga.

Kerr lambasted the governor, stating that it appeared Pataki was equating the Great Hunger with the Holocaust, confusing a natural disaster with a man-made one.

The Daily News soon got into the middle of things, accusing Kerr of being pompous.
Pataki held his fire for a time; indeed, three months were to pass before he delivered a response.

Pataki stood his ground. He had not equated the Great Famine with the Holocaust, he wrote Kerr. It was merely the case that the two would sit side by side along with slavery and genocide as human rights subjects for New York public school students.

Pataki wrote that the lofty perspective Kerr had assumed in his letter had been entirely indefensible.

Pataki again focused on the “gross inadequacy” of British relief efforts and argued that the suffering and death in Ireland were in part the result of “all too prevalent British beliefs in the inferiority of the Irish.”

In outlining his view, Pataki worded his case like the lawyer he was, drawing on statements from the Famine period by British officials as evidence to back up his position.

“But although we are not obliged to take offense on behalf of our great-grandparents, we are obliged to learn from history,” Pataki wrote.

“I want the truth above all to be taught. If it is, children in New York schools will learn that the Great Irish Hunger was no mere natural disaster.”

Just over four months later, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a letter of his own.

British politicians during the Famine years, he acknowledged, had stood by while a defining event in the history of Ireland and Britain had turned into a massive tragedy.

Blair’s letter, read out to a Famine commemoration in County Cork, was seen in Albany as a vindication of Pataki’s determined stance.

“Blair obviously is cut from better cloth than Kerr and his ilk,” the Daily News sniffed in an editorial.

A couple of years later, Pataki would walk through Irish fields that had once known only the scent of death.

And from that visit, according to Jack Irwin, Pataki’s liaison to the Irish American community during his gubernatorial years, would spring the Great Hunger Memorial in Lower Manhattan, opened by Pataki and President Mary McAleese in July 2002.

The memorial is a replica of a West of Ireland field, specifically one in County Mayo.
George Pataki seems to have a thing for fields, and pastures new. He lives in Garrison, in bucolic Putnam County.

And right now he’s checking out the fields, (and the GOP field) in New Hampshire, working on a presidential run in a year that brings with it another standout Irish anniversary.

Ambassador Anne lauded at women’s event

POSTED ON June 11th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Ambassador Anne Anderson

By Ray O’Hanlon

Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, is not at her post in Washington, D.C. today.

The popular plenipotentiary is back in Ireland where she is being honored, along with 24 other women, at an event highlighting Ireland’s “most powerful women.”

The gathering, including a “Leadership Summit” and a “Top 25 Awards” and hosted by the Women’s Executive Network, was attended by 700 people.

It was staged at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin.

Ambassador Anderson was one of the main speakers at the awards ceremony, others being Philomena Lee, whose life story was made famous in the movie “Philomena,” Microsoft’s Managing Director in Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan, and Enterprise Ireland chief, Julie Sinnamon.

Other speakers included Ulster Bank Northern Ireland chief, Ellvena Graham, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, Vodafone Ireland’s Anne O’Leary, Paypal’s Louise Phelan, Glanbia’s Siobhan Talbot, Keeling’s Caroline Keeling, Bank of Ireland’s Julie Sharp, Tesco’s Christine Heffernan, Judge Fidelma Macken, Suzanne McAuley producer of the acclaimed RTE crime drama “Love Hate,” youth campaigner Joanne O’Riordan, and vocal legend Veronica Cross.

The Women’s Executive Network event included both a leadership summit and an awards gala to celebrate the winners, and also to allow attendees to learn from the experience and knowledge of these successful women, said a release.

Two hundred attended the Leadership Summit, which delivered advice on negotiation skills, how to perform under pressure, and international leadership trends.

Five hundred attended the Gala Awards where Philomena Lee and Cathriona Hallahan gave keynote addresses.

A primary topic for consideration at the summit was the gender pay gap.

The gap in Ireland is currently 14.4 percent – and getting worse according to European Union statistics.

The statistics also show that women with children tend to fare worse in the pay scale against male counterparts,” said Pamela Jeffery, founder of Women’s Executive Network.

“Women need to be facilitated in their career progression and confident in their own value in the system. This is why we identify, promote and celebrate successful and influential women in Ireland,” Jeffery said.

The 25 award winners received their prizes in varying categories: for corporate executives, entrepreneurs, public sector leaders – the category in which Ambassador Anderson was recognized – trailblazers, the category under which Philomena Lee was honored, arts and culture, and a category headed “Hall of Fame.”

Rep. Brendan Boyle calls for collusion hearing

POSTED ON June 10th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Congressman Brendan Boyle.

By Ray O’Hanlon

U.S. Congressman Brendan Boyle has officially requested a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing to examine what he describes as “the shocking revelations into collusion” between parts of the British government and terrorists on their payroll.

The revelations were aired in a recently broadcast BBC “Panorama” news documentary.

Congressman Boyle is also formally calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene.

“The BBC documentary shines a much needed light on this subject,” said the Philadelphia Democrat.

“As the report states: ‘It is a fact there were murderers on the government payroll acting with impunity.’ It is clear to me Congress must investigate these matters to ensure they are finally dealt with in a just way. I am also calling on Secretary Kerry and the State Department to support an independent U.S. inquiry into this matter.”

Boyle added: “The Good Friday Agreement is one of the great foreign policy achievements of the last thirty years. It is important to remember this would have never happened without direct U.S. involvement to ensure all sides were listened to and represented.

“Similarly, it is quite clear to me that the issue of collusion between the state and terrorists will never fully be known unless the U.S. acts. The interests of justice demand it.”

Boyle has spoken to New Jersey GOP representative Chris Smith, asking for a hearing before his committee in addition to the full foreign affairs panel. Smith chairs the House Human Rights Subcommittee.

Others, including Amnesty International, have called for an investigation after the Panorama broadcast which was entitled “Britain’s Secret Terror Deals.”

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