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A family gathers in Ireland

POSTED ON July 20th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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The Moloney family reunion in Loughrea, Co. Galway

By Irish Echo Staff

Ireland, as we all know, is a place from where people depart.

But it’s also a place that lures them back, sometimes years, sometimes even generations later.
Family reunions in Ireland have become popular in recent years.

Often they are comprised of returning “Yanks” and their long lost relatives on the island.

Some reunions attracts members of the same extended family from the four corners of the globe

Often, people with the same family roots end up meeting for the first time.

One family that mustered in big numbers and from far and wide recently was a branch of the Moloney clan.

Over 150 members of the Moloney family, all descended from James and Anne Moloney, gathered in Loughrea, County Galway for a weekend that none will ever forget.

According to one of family members who helped muster the participants, Maggie Moloney Davis from New York, relatives came from all over Ireland and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Indonesia.

The Moloneys have maintained strong links throughout the years, said reunion coordinator Ciaran Coakley, who currently lives in the UK.

The family homestead in Ross has been renovated and continues to be the force that keeps the family connected, he said.

Teresa Moloney and her son Raymond, who live in Ross, helped to make the reunion a success by welcoming all 150 cousins home.

Coakley thanked Maureen Fanthom from County Wicklow, who developed the Moloney family heritage website, and Sean Moloney, from County Galway, who coordinated the musical tribute to the Ballinakill Ceili Band, founded by his grandfather Stephen, his father Eddie and his uncle Kevin.

Maggie Moloney Davis, who was tasked with rounding up the American Moloneys, said that the gathering was an opportunity of a lifetime for generations of Moloneys to learn about, and celebrate, their family connections, and their Irish roots.

North mothballs Mitchell funding

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

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George Mitchell

By Irish Echo Staff

Mitchell scholars will not be studying in Northern Ireland in the 2016-17 academic year.

Given severe cuts in Northern Ireland’s budget, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, has informed the US-Ireland Alliance that his department will have to end funding for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program, this according to a statement from the Alliance which runs the scholarships named after former U.S. senator George Mitchell.

“This does not affect the Mitchell Scholarship program in Ireland, only Northern Ireland. And we will not be decreasing the overall number of scholarships we will award,” said Alliance president, Trina Vargo.

“We share the minister’s view that this is an unfortunate situation. As we have been following the budgetary crisis in Northern Ireland, this news did not come as a surprise.

“For those who do not follow Northern Ireland politics, there is an overall budget impasse. The entire higher education system has suffered and universities in Northern Ireland have had to decrease their student numbers as a result,” Vargo said.

And she continued: “While this will not affect the two Mitchell Scholars who will attend Queen’s beginning in the fall, it does mean that applicants for the next Mitchell Scholarship selection round (those who will apply by the October deadline) will not have the option of selecting Queen’s University Belfast or the University of Ulster for their year of study (fall 2016-spring 2017).

“As most do not submit their applications until September, they will have time to reconsider the many options in the Republic of Ireland. For those few who have already submitted, we will review applications and if Northern Ireland universities were selected, they will have the opportunity to resubmit.

“Queen’s and the University of Ulster are great partners in this program and we know that they find themselves in much the same position. The Mitchell Scholars who have attended Northern Ireland’s universities, and all the Mitchells who have visited during their year on the island, have been greatly enriched by the experience.

Vargo said that the Alliance was working to restore the program’s North connection.

“While the timing of the selection process is such that we have had to take this immediate step, we will continue to reach out to individuals and companies that may desire to see Northern Ireland remain a part of this prestigious program in hopes that interest and resources will reverse this situation in time to include Northern Ireland Mitchell Scholars in the Class of 2018,” she said.

Dublin’s Glass is Eirecana at its best

POSTED ON July 16th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

gavin glass

Dubliner Gavin Glass’s latest CD “Sunday Songs” has received glowing reviews in Ireland.


By Colleen Taylor

By now, the popularity of American country music in Ireland, particularly in the West, is well established, but lately, I’ve become more aware of the reciprocal creative output resultant from this Irish fandom, particularly within the past five years. Some of Ireland’s best musicians—names like Nathan Carter, Ronan Keating and Mary Duff—are producing great country and Americana music that can hold its own with our homegrown Southern talent. Gavin Glass is yet another example. The American musical influence gives panache and distinction to Glass’s sound, one that provides for an easy-going, beautiful listening experience. Glass has recently released his album “Sunday Songs,” a collection that impels several listens. “Sunday Songs” is not the typical country music cover album: it is something both Irish and American, and all Glass’s own.

Glass is Irish country music’s Dublin constituent. A Dubliner himself, he represents the Eirecana (Irish Americana) genre across the city—a regular at its best music venues, such as Whelan’s, where he launched his new album at the end of last month. The album subsequently received glowing reviews from the Irish Times and fans alike. When he’s not performing solo, Glass also plays with Lisa Hannigan’s band or works as a music producer. But Glass’s time focused on songwriting is his time best spent. This is a musician who knows how to marry poetry with notes.

While his earlier albums, particularly “Myna Birds” (2010), are accomplishments in their own right, this latest and fourth album is his best yet. “Sunday Songs” is his most nostalgic, most emotive and most evocative. Listening to this album is like living in a Western film. Glass makes use of old-time instruments like the steel guitar and classic violin, all the while maintaining a modern interpretive flare. The historical steel guitar, for instance, is complimented by the electric, by moments of a more indie blend of instruments, such as in the more modernized rock song, “Light Heart.” On the other hand, the exquisite title track evokes that quintessentially country swaying rhythm that one associates exclusively with a horse and a cowboy. For me, one of the best on the album is “Better Left Alone.” This song is country through and through. While it exemplifies all of Glass’s own unique interpretation, it nonetheless speaks to the legacy of the country-music tradition throughout the past century. Each of the eight songs achieves a sound that is simultaneously melancholic and carefree, creating a myriad of cultural associations.

So where does the Irish come in? Aside from Glass’s own personal background, it might not be readily identifiable in this strictly Eirecana, country music album. But in my opinion, there is something definitively Irish in the lyrics. “Rise and Fall” starts out with the simple pairing of Glass’s mournful vocals and piano: “Look at us now /still running round/ From all that we were and all that we know.” The tenor of his voice speaks to a culture of balladeers and sad love songs. If you wanted to, you could make an argument for the album’s Irish lineage in the lyrics he writes and the style in which he sings them.

All in all, Gavin Glass proves that Ireland does far more than listen to good American country music. It creates it too. The Eirecana and country-music genres are lucky to have an advocate like Glass. His music is sophisticated and timeless. One cannot listen to “Sunday Songs” without being moved, without falling into reverie. Check Gavin Glass out on Spotify or Facebook.

Colleen Taylor is the Music Notes columnist for the Irish Echo.

After Berkeley, a legislative win and loss

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

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California State Senator Lori Hancock and her husband, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates

By Ray O’Hanlon

Berkeley City Council has voted for measures that should ensure no repeat of last month’s tragic balcony collapse that killed six students (five Irish and one Irish American) and injured seven others.

But California state lawmakers have rejected a bill that would have increased oversight of contractors throughout the state in the wake of the tragedy.

Both votes came on Tuesday.

In Berkeley, the council voted for new regulations that will mean apartment building balconies being inspected every three years.

And according to reports in the Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle newspapers, the council also voted to require that new balconies be made of corrosion-resistant material and be ventilated to prevent a buildup of moisture.

After the June 16 fatal balcony collapse it was discovered that wooden joists attaching the balcony to the apartment building had rotted.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the Berkeley council’s vote came after it heard from an attorney for one of the victims’ families.

“It would be an amazing compounding of this tragedy not to do something now and not to ensure that similarly designed and constructed buildings are not being inspected,” attorney Eustace de Saint Phalle said.

Stated the report: “He had called for yearly inspections. City staff had recommended inspections every five years. Some building group representatives had urged the council to hold off on the vote for further study.”

Evan as Berkeley City Council was moving to implement stricter codes, California state lawmakers were voting down a bill that would have required construction companies to disclose felony convictions and settlements to state regulators over construction defects.

SB 465, authored by Democratic Senators Loni Hancock and Jerry Hill, did not pass out of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee. But it became what is called a “two-year bill” which allows backers more time to refine their proposal.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that SB 465 “may be revived if support is found.”

Hancock and Hill said they will continue to work on legislation to address one of the biggest concerns raised from the tragedy: how a state board was left in the dark about multimillion-dollar legal settlements involving the contractors they license, the report said.

Many senate committee members supported the bill’s intent, but worried about requiring a state agency to collect settlement data without understanding how it would be used in enforcement, the Bee reported.

Segue Construction, the company that built the Berkeley apartment, has paid more than $26.5 million in the past three years to settle lawsuits related to balcony failures. The Contractors State License Board was unaware of the cases because California state law does not require the company to report them to the board.

Reported the Chronicle: The bill fell one vote short of the majority needed to pass the 14-member Assembly business and professions committee. It was defeated in a party-line 7-3 vote, with Republicans voting against it. Four members did not vote.

Hill and Hancock had agreed to amend the bill to allow the state licensing board to determine whether reporting settlements and felonies was the right course, or if other oversight was needed. The lawmakers unsuccessfully asked their colleagues to pass the bill while they continued to work on it.

“This, in my view, is what shakes people’s confidence in government,” Hancock said after the vote.

“I’m very, very disappointed,” she said.

Prior to the vote, Hancock had released a statement arguing to approval of SB 465.

“I believe that the Berkeley balcony collapse was preventable had there been more accountability and oversight. What we have discovered since this tragedy occurred is that the builder of this building has had a history of sub-standard work, which the state oversight board was never aware of.

“This bill requires contractors to report legal settlements to the state board. This is not a new policy. We require this of engineers. We should require the same of the people that build our homes, apartments and other buildings,” she said.

For Hancock, there was at least a silver lining in the Berkeley City Council vote. Her husband, Tom Bates, is Mayor of Berkeley.

Both Hancock and Bates take a strong interest in Ireland and the North peace process and have visited Belfast.

Meanwhile, some of the seven injured students are making good progress, but a couple of the survivors are battling especially serious injuries.

It is expected that the families of the dead and injured will be initiating civil lawsuits.

Dunleavy digs in

POSTED ON July 14th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Dr. John Lahey is now chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.


By Ray O’Hanlon

John Dunleavy wasn’t ousted from any position.

But his ability to almost single handedly control the destiny of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade was severely diminished as a result of a position being filled.

As the fallout over the recent move in the parade power structure to effectively sideline Dunleavy continues to spread, Dunleavy himself appears to be digging in, and is seemingly determined not to relinquish his central role without a fight.

Just what effect this will have on the parade, its long term future, and the more immediate concern that is the standout year march in 2016, remains to be seen.

But long time parade observers are expressing fearful concern.

The parade, they feel, needs a new controversy like the proverbial hole in the head.

Nevertheless, it has one on its hands, and the consequences could be very serious indeed.

From conversations with some of the leading figures in what is now an evident standoff in parade circles, the Echo has pieced together a picture of what transpired before, during, and after an extraordinary conference call of parade directors that involved parade leaders contributing from both coasts of the United States, and from Ireland.

In the latter case, the participant was not John Dunleavy, who was visiting relatives in both Ireland and London when the conference took place.

The conference call took place against a backdrop of issues that leading members, including parade committee vice chairman, Dr. John Lahey, felt required immediate attention.

The issues had been discussed at the last meeting in April, described as a “lively” one by one participant.

The next formal board of directors meeting was not scheduled until the late summer or fall, probably a date sometime in September.

Members wanted to address the matter of a renewed broadcasting contract with WNBC, and also holding discussions with a gay and lesbian group that had applied to march in the 2015 parade, but had been turned down in favor of the LGBT group comprised of NBC employees that did take part in the 253rd march in honor of St. Patrick.

There had been a growing discussion over the need to include a gay marching group that would be readily identified as Irish.

The Green and Lavender Alliance, headed by longtime activist and co-organizer of the St. Pat’s For All parade in Sunnyside, Queens, Brendan Fay, was top of the list in this regard.

The conference call took place on Tuesday, June 30.

All involved were aware of a report carried by the Irish Central website stating that parade committee chairman John Dunleavy had met with executive from New York television channels other than WNBC with a view to offering broadcasting rights to the parade.

The report also portrayed Mr. Dunleavy as being opposed to the participation of any gay group in the 2016 parade.

At the same time, board members had been holding talks with parade director and 2012 grand marshal, Frank Comerford, the president and general manager of WNBC, with a view to extending the relationship with that network, this after the existing three year contract had expired.

The feeling among board members was that the matter of broadcasting rights, and the inclusion of a second gay marching group, were matters for the entire board, and not just one individual, to deal with.

The members also felt that a renewed invitation to the NBC gay group was warranted because it had marched properly in this year’s parade.

The phone conference, according to one source, had been flagged two weeks in advance. All board members, including Chairman Dunleavy, had been invited to participate.

However, Mr. Dunleavy did not participate in the June 30 conversation which included 13 of the parade’s 16 board members.

One of the participants was in Ireland, another in California.

The decision was made to renew with WNBC and invite a second gay group.

With regard to renewing with WNBC, the decision was unanimous. In the matter of inviting the second gay group, it was ten to zero with three abstentions.

But it was another decision, one which was intended to “clarify” John Dunleavy’s role in the parade that was to lead to rancor and rupture.

Mr. Dunleavy was, and remains, the chairman of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee.

But the chairmanship of a second parade entity, one set up in the 1990s and mainly at the behest of the late Jim Barker, was viewed as being vacant.

This second grouping is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc.

This is the legal entity that is ultimately responsible for the parade.

Directors, as one participant in the call put it, decided to end the situation where there was no chairman of the “Parade Inc.” – this so that there would be “no ambiguity” in the parade’s organization and running.

Dr. John Lahey was duly elected chairman of the Parade Inc. with John Fitzsimons as vice chairman. John Dunleavy’s chairmanship of the Parade and Celebration Committee was left untouched but the move shifted the center of power in the parade organizing structure – at least in terms of decisions as important as broadcasting rights and gay and lesbian group participation.

Looking to the 2016 parade, clearly a standout in historical terms, parade directors are hoping for full participation from New York City’s political leadership, not least Mayor de Blasio and the City Council who have boycotted the last couple of parades.

When reached by the Echo, Dr. Lahey said that the parade was a public event which required a license from the city each and every year.

Parade organizers, he said, had to be practical in their dealings with the city.
“The parade is bigger than any one of us,” Dr. Lahey said.

For his part, John Dunleavy, who is clearly angered by what has transpired, said that his “boss” was “the people who take part in the parade.”

He said that he would be examining and analyzing all that had occurred when he was out of the country, and only after that process was complete would he be making a statement.

Police, teen, injured in loyalist riot

POSTED ON July 14th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Woodvale Parade
An injured police officer is dragged from the front line by colleagues

By Anthony Neeson

Twenty-four police officers and a 16-year-old girl have been injured during disturbances following Belfast’s 12th of July parade on Monday.

With the Twelfth falling on a Sunday this year, the main parades took place the day after, and while the parades themselves were peaceful, violence once more erupted as loyalists tried to gain access onto the Crumlin Road in North Belfast.

Police had blocked off their route back to Ligoniel for the third year in a row after a determination from the Parades Commission, preventing them from passing through the nationalist Ardoyne.

Earlier in the morning a limited number were permitted to pass the same stretch of road on their way into the city center and the main Twelfth demonstration.

However, on the return leg, loyalists clashed with police not long after the parade reached the security barriers.

Further up the Crumlin Road, where nationalists had gathered near the Ardoyne shops, a car ploughed into the crowd trapping a 16-year-old girl underneath it.

Police and locals pushed the car over freeing the girl. She remains in hospital but her condition is described as stable. A man was arrested by police and remains in custody.

Holy Cross priest, Fr. Gary Donegan, said the car “went right over the top” of the girl.
“PSNI officers and local residents managed to lift the car off her,” he added.

“There were graphic scenes of seeing her feet sticking out from underneath the car. You could actually see the marks of the vehicle on the back of her jeans. She was very distressed.”

Meanwhile, 12th of July bonfires were in the spotlight this year as many as many were adorned with political posters of nationalist candidates, Irish tricolors, and effigies including one of hunger striker Bobby Sands, as well as Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Michelle Gildernew.

Ms. Gildernew hit out at those behind the displays.

“When are we going to see some courageous leadership from political unionism and the Orange Order when it comes to this hate filled practice of burning of effigies, flags and election posters on bonfires,” she said.

“Not satisfied with insulting the entire nationalist community by burning our national flag and candidates’ election posters, the organizers of these bonfires have now taken to burning effigies.

“A disgusting display of bigoted sectarianism is the bonfire at Moygashel depicting an effigy of myself accompanied by a message declaring it to represent a public hanging.

It also makes reference to a quote by former Ulster Unionist Leader, Tom Elliott, when he referred to Sinn Féin voters as scum.

“With that kind of leadership is it any wonder that these Neanderthals think this type of insult is part of their culture.”

Labor awards to honor top ten

POSTED ON July 13th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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LIUNA President Terry O’Sullivan

By Ray O’Hanlon

Less is more when it comes to honoring Irish America’s contribution to the cause of labor.

That’s the message from Irish America’s premier celebration of working men and women this year which will focus on ten top labor leaders.

“We’ve raised a glass to fifty and a hundred labor champions in previous years, but in 2015 we have decided to focus on just ten giants of Irish America who have made a significant contribution to the labor movement in the United States,” said Irish Echo publisher, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

“And among that select few will be our Irish American Labor Leader of the Year, an accolade which last year went to John Hegarty, then President of the National Postal Handlers Union, and in 2013 to Sandhogs chief James Ryan, both of course revered figures in the national labor movement.”

Guest speakers at this year’s labor celebration on September 25 in the Edison Ballroom, Manhattan, will be LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD.

“As the Build America Union, LIUNA is delighted again to be spearheading support for the Irish American Labor Awards and looks forward to saluting the heroes across the US who are driving the US forward,” said O’Sullivan.

“Throughout history, our Irish heritage and the struggle for workers’ rights have been one and the same, and I’m delighted to see those two great themes merge in the Irish Labor 10.”

Nominations for the labor awards can be made online at up until Friday, July 24.

Catherine Burns is going home to Tyrone

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

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Flashback to March 2013, and the interment of the partial remains of John Ruddy in Ardara, County Donegal.

By Ray O’Hanlon

A good deal more official attention will be paid to the return of Catherine Burns to Ireland than was the case when she left the island more than 180 years ago.

“We will have to declare Catherine to the customs in Dublin,” said Dr. William Watson of Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.

That means entering Ireland through the “red channel” at Dublin airport and clearing Catherine’s partial remains through the customs process.

Watson and others in his Duffy’s Cut excavation team will be flying to Ireland from Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 14.

This will be the second time that remains from Duffy’s Cut will be returned to Ireland.

Catherine Burns, who was from County Tyrone, was preceded by John Ruddy from neighboring Donegal.

A few days after her arrival in Ireland, fragments of Catherine’s remains – unearthed at the Duffy’s Cut excavation site in Malvern, Chester County, PA – will be interred in her native soil.

Catherine was just 29 when she died.

A funeral Mass is being planned at Clonoe Parish in Coalisland for Sunday, July 19.

“We have a small marker we will place at her grave,” said Dr. Watson, one of the leaders of the Duffy’s Cut excavation since it first began in 2003.

The project has cast extraordinary light on the lives and deaths of Irish immigrants working on a railroad outside Philadelphia in the early 1830s.

Added Watson regarding Catherine Burns: “Excavating her remains back in August, 2010, two things were apparent to me immediately. Her face was largely intact, so we finally had a face from Duffy’s Cut, and her pelvis was also substantially intact.

“We had excavated skulls before, of course, but the violence done to the men had essentially blasted their faces away. I recall lifting the pelvis out of the ground and remarking how heavy it was, and asking whether that might be important.

“Our physical anthropologist, Janet Monge, examined the remains at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and said two things pointed to the remains being female – the small size of the mouth palate and the pelvis.

“Janet concluded that the remains were from a female approximately thirty years old, and we had one female aged 29 on the John Stamp ship passenger list, Catherine Burns (there was also a 21 year old female on the ship, but Janet said the remains were about 30 and not about 20). Janet said she was also a victim of blunt force trauma, but her face had survived.”

The John Stamp sailed from Derry with a number of the Duffy’s Cut Irish on board.

“We found the two bone fragments in her coffin nail box in November 2014, and we formulated the idea then of returning some of her remains to her native county,” said Dr. Watson.

Watson added that during the upcoming trip a marker will also be placed on the grave of the other identified Duffy’s Cut victim, John Ruddy, now resting in Ardara, County Donegal.

From being buried without ceremony at Duffy’s Cut, the immigrants of that bygone time are gradually being reinterred with dignity and respect.

In March, 2012, the remains of five men and one woman were laid to rest in a church burial at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, not far from Malvern. That ceremony was attended by the then Irish ambassador to the U.S., Michael Collins.

Meanwhile, Dr. Watson and his team are preparing to extract core samples for an estimated fifty men buried in a mass grave at the Duffy’s Cut site. This work is expected to begin in the near future.

The mass grave site is on land immediately adjacent to the railroad which carries SEPTA and AMTRAK trains. AMTRAK owns the land and has granted permission for the work.

The site is marked by the remains of a onetime stone building.

In the summer of 1832, 57 Irish laborers died while building the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad between Malvern and Frazer at a site that became known to the wider world in recent years as Duffy’s Cut.

From before the start of the excavation work, Dr. Watson and his colleagues believed that the deaths were caused not just by cholera, the reason reported at the time, but by murderous attacks carried out by local nativist and know nothing gangs.

Remains unearthed during the years of the Duffy’s Cut excavation have confirmed this view.

Emory U. launches Belfast Group site

POSTED ON July 10th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views


Seamus Heaney was an original member of the Belfast Group organized at Queen’s University from 1963. He is pictured near his home in Dublin in 1995 after it was announced that he’d won the Nobel Prize for Literature. PHOTOCALL

By Maureen McGavin

A new website called Belfast Group Poetry Networks will make it easier to understand the connections between Irish writers, particularly members of the mid-1960s Belfast Group, using open-source software created by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS).

Belfast Group Poetry Networks (, which launched last Tuesday, provides an interactive way to explore the poets’ literary and social networks, based on correspondence, shared poems at workshops, and mentions of names and places in poems and throughout their personal papers. The new site builds on and extends the previous Belfast Group webpage, created in 2000 by the Lewis H. Beck Center for Electronic Collections (now part of ECDS), as well as EmoryFindingAids, a repository of collection descriptions for MARBL manuscript collections.

Belfast Group primer

Organized by Philip Hobsbaum, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, the Belfast Group was a writers’ workshop that met from 1963 until 1972, when it disbanded due to political turmoil in Ireland and the rising literary careers of many of its participants. Members would bring Group sheets – typed copies of their drafts – to the weekly meetings to distribute to fellow Group members for feedback. (Since these are drafts, some of the poems differ from their published versions, adding another layer of interest for researchers.)

Original Group members included Seamus Heaney and Marie Devlin (who later married), Edna Broderick, Bernard MacLaverty, Stewart Parker, James Simmons and Arthur Terry. Heaney and other members took over running the Group when Hobsbaum moved to Glasgow in 1966. Over the years, the Group counted Ciaran Carson, Brendan Kennelly, Michael Longley (who married Edna Broderick), Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon among its members.

The new website

The project for the Beck Center’s original Belfast Group website began in the mid-1990s, when a small number of poets whose papers are held by MARBL gave permission for their Group sheets to be digitized to create an electronic poetry collection.

The updated site features the Group sheets of poets who gave permission, which include Heaney, Muldoon, Michael Longley, Hobsbaum, Carson, Simmons, and Kennelly. The papers of one poet often contain Group sheets written by other poets.

“In our Muldoon collection, we have Heaney’s Group sheets because Muldoon was there when Heaney read, and in Simmons’ papers, we have Longley’s Group sheets,” says ECDS digital humanities strategist Brian Croxall, who served as deputy project leader and project manager.

Other features of the website include biographies of several Belfast Group members, generated from the MARBL finding aids (if MARBL doesn’t have the poet’s papers, the software will pull in the biography from Wikipedia); network graphs of the authors’ connections to the Belfast Group and to other writers; maps of places connected to people associated with the Belfast Group; and essays about both archival biases and women in the Belfast Group.

The road to networking the Belfast Group

The idea to update the Belfast Group site started with senior software engineer and project lead Rebecca Sutton Koeser, who completed a majority of the software development. She wanted to provide a new way to visualize some of the information found in the finding aids, which list the contents of poets’ papers and archives. Online finding aids are constructed more for humans to read rather than computers, Croxall says, even though there is data embedded.

“There’s so much work that archivists do when they process a collection and describe the material, and they put a lot of that information into the finding aids,” says Koeser. “This is a way to use more of that data.”

Koeser proposed the “Networking the Belfast Group” project to ECDS in 2012, but she first started experimenting with the idea in 2010, when members of her team were given time to explore new technologies and possible projects.

She noticed that four Irish collections held by MARBL have an index of correspondence, and she began harvesting the names to map the connections. “It’s really kind of extraordinary; they have a list, person by person, of what letters are in the collection,” she says. “But I would say maybe fewer than 10 collections in MARBL have this type of index, because it’s so time-intensive for archivists to do.”

The team went through the finding aids, tagging the names of poets, their places of birth and residence, locations mentioned in their poems, and organizations. The software Koeser wrote allowed team members to complete this process more easily, and it also communicates with an international cataloging system that assigns a permanent ID tag to each poet and author. Even abbreviations of names could be tagged, so if Seamus Heaney was referred to as S.H. or SH, those abbreviations could be identified as Heaney – something that is obvious in context to a human, but not obvious to a computer, Koeser says.

Once those tags were in place, Koeser then wrote software that could infer relationships among them from the data in the finding aid, which was then output in RDF, a linked data format.

“For example, Seamus Heaney marries Marie Devlin. She is his spouse, and the software recognizes that relationship,” Croxall says. “We can then essentially start to make a Facebook for these people – that’s one way to think of it.”

Open-source software and open data

The software Koeser developed is open-source and can be used by other archives to show similar connections among their collections. Anne Donlon, a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in MARBL and ECDS, is using the software for preliminary work with MARBL’s African American collections to connect the writers who wrote, owned, or inscribed books to each other, Koeser says.

“It’s a quicker way to find connections among our collections, and it really gives a sense of what the library has and how collections relate to each other,” Croxall says. “That opens up a lot of possibilities for research.”

In addition to Croxall and Koeser, team members included digital text specialist and original Belfast Group website manager Alice Hickcox, digital archivist Elizabeth Russey Roke, and senior software manager Kevin Glover.

The team also plans to publish the data from the site in Emory’s Dataverse Network and on Figshare, for others to use in their research.

Grá for words at Bergen Fest

POSTED ON July 9th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure, News & Views

maura & maire

Maire Reilly and Maura Mulligan.


By Maura Mulligan

The recent Bergen County Irish festival featured pipe bands, step dancers, food, and a pub area as well as an evening céilí with top musicians Margie Mulvihill, John Reynolds, John Nolan and Dan Gibney.   The main stage featured bands “Celtic Cross”, “Nine Mile House,” and “The Narrowbacks.”

With entertainment like that in the same general area as the literature tent, we who presented readings were mightily pleased to have an audience all afternoon. It was a rich reminder that Irish people have a special grá for words.

The literature program had a dramatic start with the Irish Reperatory Theater’s co-founder Ciarán O’ Reilly reciting five poems by Yeats. The talented actor took it all in stride in spite of technical distractions in in the middle of  “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” By the time Angus started his wandering, the microphone was fully operating and we all breathed a sigh of joyous relief.

Next up was the legendary Carmel Quinn who not only sang beautifully, but also made us laugh when she drew our attention to a passing ambulance announcing that she was alright, that it wasn’t time for her to be taken away yet.  Then she belted out “The Gipsy Rover” and the audience joined in the chorus.

Ciarán and Carmel were hard acts to follow. Still, you could tell we managed to keep the momentum going because as soon as someone got up to get a cup of tea, a standee grabbed the vacant seat. Soon extra chairs were added and everyone settled in for an afternoon of stories and poetry in the rain.

Several literature tent presenters paid tribute to the 150th birthday of Yeats and the forthcoming anniversary of the 1916 Rising. Michael O’Malley spoke elegantly about the dreams of Yeats and Pearse and the Éirí Amach na Cásca, or Easter Rising.  The scholarly Pat Schuber spoke of the Fenian Movement and how John O’Mahony went to America in 1853 and tried to gain support for another uprising from those who had left Ireland during the Great Hunger.

“Women of the Easter Rebellion” was Hank McNally’s topic, discussing Countess Markievez, and others not so well known or remembered. Mr. McNally reminded his listeners that the last to leave the GPO were members of Cumann na mBan. These included Winnie Carney, Julia Grenan and Elizabeth O’Farrell.

The theme of the Easter Rising and tribute to Yeats continued with the melodic voice of Ryan Cahill singing “The Foggy Dew” and “Down by the Sally Gardens.”

Yeats wasn’t the only poet presented. Séamus Heaney’s beautiful poem, “Sunlight,” was read by Maura Quinn and poetry of Bobby Sands came alive in the voice of Dick Moloney.  A living poet, Tim Dwyer shared poems from his own collection:  “Smithy Of Our Longings: Poems From The Irish Diaspora.” These included a moving poem inspired by the 2013 drama film “Philomena.”

There was no lack of prose either. Gary Cahill brought Colum McCann’s writing to life when he shared a passage from “Let The Great World Spin,” which won the 2009 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary award. Cahill also read an interesting passage from his own work. “For Richer, for Poorer.”

McCann’s wasn’t the only world spinning at this festival. John Kearns, the emcee at the Irish American Writers & Artists salon shared a scene from his own novel-in-progress “The World.”

In it, Janey Logan sends her young son, Paul, to get a jar of mayonnaise at the local A&P.  When Paul returns saying that the single paper bag the cashier had given him had broken in the rain, Janey goes to the store to cause a scene. She walks out with a free jar. “Paul felt his mother could have gotten a whole order of groceries for free if she had wanted to.   But she had fought like a lioness for only a jar of mayonnaise.

“And she didn’t even like mayonnaise.”

Speaking of rain, you could say we used it to our advantage in the literature tent. At one point the side of the tent blew down giving us a mighty splash of rainwater. That turned out to be an appropriate, albeit accidental introduction to the seanachai Marianne McShane’s presentation of “Dermot In The Land-Under-Wave.” A great storyteller Marianne brought the audience along with her under the magical wave.

Poetry, prose, history and magic made way for personal accounts when memoir took its place at this feast of words.  Joan Comiskey read from her lovely book, “Ballylinn,” about growing up near her grandmother’s pub/grocery in a small rural village in Ireland of the 1930s. Joan’s light-hearted, voice and entertaining manner kept us glued to her words. She shared a passage about a woman who always wore her hat in the house so that whenever someone she didn’t want to entertain came to the door she could simply say, “Oh, I was just on my way out.”

Music enhanced words when the talented fiddler Longford native Marie Reilly played the haunting tune “The Lark in the Clear Air” as an introduction to my own contribution from my memoir, “Call of the Lark.”  I was glad the audience liked my scéal about the local Schoolmaster and his wielding cane. It will be an honor to present this and other stories from “Call of the Lark” at the biggest festival of them all – the Flead Cheoil in Sligo on Aug. 13 when Marie Reilly will again join me in an hour-long presentation.

Congratulations to fellow IAW&A member and festival committee organizer Sean Hickey for including the literature tent. Likewise, much credit is due to Marie Morris and her team for their warm introductions and for doing their best to keep the literature tent out of earshot of the music performances.

 Maura Mulligan is the author of a memoir, “Call of the Lark.”

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