By Peter McDermott
In 2004, following an international survey of genealogical research facilities, David Ouimette of the Genealogical Society of Utah / Family History Library, Salt Lake City, reported “the most impressive guidance we saw was provided by the Genealogy Advisory Service at the National Library and the National Archives in Dublin.”
That was high praise indeed from one of the leading powerhouses in the world of genealogy. However, the service was suspended on May 31, after the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland withdrew, unhappy with the tightening terms and conditions imposed in a new contract. It had already gone along with cutbacks last year – and even suggested some of them — that reduced the service to three and a half hours per day at the National Archives in Bishop Street.
The APGI, which only allows fully accredited professionals to join, said that the genealogy service “played a central role in enhancing the research experience and was a significant component in heritage-related tourism.”
Said Irish genealogy blogger Claire Santry: “The tone of the [APGI] statement is polite and suitably respectful, as you’d expect. But behind the scenes there is huge resentment.”
A writer on a Scottish-based genealogy blog said that “various terms of the new contract to continue the service went beyond the realms of reason.”
Santry said: “Incidentally, I was in the Reading Room last Friday week at about 1.30 p.m. when genealogist Rosaleen Underwood should have been finishing for the day. I stuck my head around the genealogy service door and saw there were still three people queuing to speak to her. She was still there half an hour later when I left the building. That’s dedication. And I know that all the APGI genealogists put in a similar level of commitment to help visitors from around the world uncover their Irish heritage.”
The APGI believed that any new contract would require them to leave that queue of people to help with microfilm machines and photocopying. Two rivals in previous contract bids, Eneclann and Ancestry Network, joined forces to put in the sole bid to work for the National Archives and the National Library.
“We built it up over nine years,” said one APGI member, “And they [National Archives managers] never even asked our advice on how to run it better.”
In a related story, the prominent author and UCD historian Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter has resigned from the board of the National Library, citing the “little clarity” provided for the reasons of its amalgamation with the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He said that he was “refusing to tolerate an offensive and disingenuous doublespeak” from the government. It paid “lip service” to the importance of the library and other cultural institutions while “it seeks to emasculate these institutions,” he said.
Like the APGI, Ferriter was sensitive to the difficult economic situation, but argued that the government was working on the decade of centenary commemorations while it was “intent on doing untold damage to the very institutions which are the custodians of so much of that history.”
By Peter McDermott
It was a wet Thursday morning in Dublin in late April. But Lynn Shayler and Jennifer Moran hadn’t come to Ireland for the weather, or for the view of the mountains that a 5th floor office on Bishop Street affords. They hadn’t expected to be sitting reading their great-grandmother’s will either, but two days earlier a professional genealogist at the National Archives said she could get it. Now they were back and her colleague Paul Gorry went over the document with them. It gave them some names and leads to follow up.
Gorry teased out other issues with them, such as: how could Patrick Joseph Hand, a gardener from Kildare, and Mary J. Murphy, a cook from Meath, end up in Roscommon, where they married in 1882? In any case, the couple went back east again and ran a confectioner’s store from 1890 to about 1921 on Lower George’s Street in the seaside town of Kingstown in County Dublin.
At the end of that 30-year period, Kingstown became Dún Laoghaire. Meanwhile, one of their children, Alfred Patrick Hand, had gone to New York with his wife and daughter. A son was born to the family there. But the Dublin man died in 1929 and his widow brought the two children back across the Atlantic, eventually settling in England.
The New York-born Alfred Xavier Hand was Shayler and Moran’s father. He died in 1968, at age 48, when they were teenagers. Their mother died in 1969. Now the sisters, who live in Nottingham and Stoke, wanted to find out more about them and their families.
“So many people died. I never met my grandparents, and my parents died young,” said Moran. “I’m trying to put together something not only for ourselves but for future generations, so that they know the roots from where they do come. “
“These people here have been absolutely brilliant,” she said of the free service provided by the National Archives.
“We would never have got that for a start,” Moran added, referring to the copy of their great-grandmother Mary Hand’s 1936 will.
However, they arrived at the end of an era; the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland had become, after a nine-year association with the National Archives, increasingly unhappy with the terms and conditions of their contract. The service was suspended on May 31 and will be resumed this month in association with two groups that have formed a consortium, Eneclann and Ancestry Network.
“Each year, the genealogy service guided hundreds of family historians, both overseas visitors and Irish residents, who wished to do their own research,” said the APGI in a statement, “providing them with a strategy for their particular case and giving them time-saving tips.”
Gorry’s time-saving tip for the visitors from the English Midlands that Thursday was to forget about tracing the family background of the former Mary J. Murphy. The name was too common. He did, however, help them identify which Bartholomew Hand in the records was their great-great-grandfather, and gave them some suggestions about how to follow the line further back through Griffith’s Valuation.
“We didn’t know about that website he mentioned,” Moran said, referring to Askaboutireland.ie, which is a portal for Griffith’s Valuation.
Shayler and Moran’s itinerary for their time in Ireland was highly organized. And they approached their search the way the experts advise, doing everything they could at home online and offline before traveling. The sisters had been working for 18 months on their Irish roots, a cousin having already done much of the work on their mother’s, the English side, of their family.
They reached the conclusion that Mary Hand and her husband were hard workers, and that she was probably the driving force. Though the store had the name P.J. Hand, he was still listed in the 1901 census as a “landscape gardener,” while she was a “mistress confectioner.” (They visited the location in 2012, now occupied by a shoe shop.)
They sent their sons Bartholomew and Alfred to school at Blackrock College, which turned out to be a good source of information for Alfred’s granddaughters.
“We found out a lot about our grandfather’s teeth. He had quite a lot of fillings,” Moran said. “We put it down to living in the confectionary shop.”
Their father’s mother was from Belfast. She migrated with her family as a child to Dublin, where they had a house-painting business.
She remarried after leaving America. Her daughter later married a man named Molloy and settled back in Ireland. It was through that connection that young Jennifer and Lynn Hand went to Dublin in the 1950s with their older siblings and parents. Their aunt got their father, who had been an aircraft engineer during the war, a position in a textiles company.
“I don’t think it worked out,” Moran said of that three-year stint in the land of his parents.
But his daughters’ trip of 2012 certainly did. “It’s been a good journey, hasn’t it?” Moran said to her sister.
“Everybody has been very helpful,” Shayler said. “And they have pointed us in different directions.”
“The stuff we’ve got here in the last few days is what we haven’t been able to get in England,” Moran said. “It’s been absolutely fabulous.”
By Daniel Neely
For all the attention given the records of the 78 rpm era, few seem to really notice the number of banjos one hears. While aficionados may recognize names like Mike Flanagan of the Flanagan Brothers, Neil Nolan of the Dan Sullivan Shamrock Band and perhaps even Michael Gaffney (who recorded with flute player John McKenna) as being the banjo leaders of the era, people like Boston’s Joe Fahey (who made a single side with his brother John on fiddle), Jimmy McDade (who played with Ed Reavy in the Four Provinces Orchestra), James Ryan (who played with Paddy Killoran) and, later, George Derrane, were also active, their names lamentably lost in most discussions of the instrument’s history.
The players in this early era were spirited and full of character, but their approach seems to have been largely intuitive; if ideas about a teaching method for “Irish” banjo did exist, they haven’t been passed down in any cohesive manner. Sure, the banjo had a place in teaching – fiddle giant James Morrison used the banjo as a pedagogical tool in teaching his young violin students proper intonation (and probably wasn’t alone in doing that) – it wasn’t until Barney McKenna came along and revolutionized the instrument with the Dubliners in Ireland in the 1960s that the likes of Mick O’Connor, Mick Moloney, Kieran Hanrahan, John Carty, Gerry O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and many others began to think differently about how the instrument fit into the music.
Because of these players, the “Irish” tenor banjo has developed substantially and now, a new breed of virtuoso player has emerged that has taken the instrument to new places. One of the players leading the way is Galway’s Enda Scahill. A member of the Brock McGuire band, Scahill has won four All-Ireland titles, guested with the Chieftains, recorded with Ricky Skaggs, and toured with Frankie Gavin and Stockton’s Wing. He has also recorded outstanding albums as a solo artist (“Pick It Up,” 2000), as a duo with Paul Brock (“Humdinger,” 2007) and in ensemble with the Brock McGuire Band (Green Grass Blue Grass, 2011).
If being an absolutely brilliant player wasn’t enough, Scahill is also a highly respected teacher. Not only have several of his students won All-Ireland titles for themselves, but since 2008 Scahill has published two separate (and well-received) banjo tutorials that introduce and codify a sophisticated approach to the instrument’s technique that players of all levels have found enlightening.
It’s fitting, then, that Scahill’s most recent offering, the tunebook “40 Solos for the Irish Tenor Banjo,” is not only pedagogical in nature, but includes two of his students, both All-Ireland winners, the brothers Martin and David Howley. (Ironically, credit for the Howley’s banjo skills go to another of Scahill’s students, Johnny Harty; Scahill reports he taught Martin the tenor guitar and David the mandolin, and considers them his “banjo grandchildren.”) Together, the trio is the group WeBanjo3. Formed in 2009, the group took much stronger shape this past September when the Music Network, an arm of the Arts Council of Ireland, gave them the “Young Musicwide Award,” which provides support and professional development assistance to emerging young artists. In addition to this book, they have a CD due out later this year.
“40 Solos for the Irish Tenor Banjo” is not a diegesis on technique, rather, it’s an outstanding resource for banjo players wishing to better know and understand ornamentation and variation. It is presented as two publications in one, and comes with two compact discs. The first part, “20 Tunes Guaranteed to Help You Win Banjo Competitions,” encompasses the first half of the book and provides a nice selection of well-known tunes that stay well within traditional music’s boundaries – perfect for fleadh competition.
Flip the book over as if you’re going to open the back cover and you’ll find the second publication, “20 Tunes Guaranteed to Get you Disqualified from Banjo Competitions.” Here, students will find a selection of original and old time- and bluegrass-influenced tunes, the sort that Scahill has been playing with his various groups, but also the kind Scahill has found (from experience) fleadh adjudicators typically do not reward. (One of the tunes in this section is a Niall Vallely composition; Scahill reports that Vallely was delighted to have one of his own included as a “disqualifier!”)
All the notated tunes in “40 Solos for the Irish Tenor Banjo” are note-for-note transcriptions (in both TAB and standard notations) of the performances the Howleys and Scahill recorded on the two CDs. Being able to see and hear the music is especially valuable because it makes it easy to follow the variations and ornamentations, and to better understand what they mean to the tune. The CDs are a brilliant part of the presentation.
With this tutor, WeBanjo3 has given us a resource young banjoists will undoubtedly turn to for years to come. In addition, Scahill continues his yeoman’s work in elevating the banjo in traditional music.
Published in the May 30, 2012 issue of the Irish Echo
By Orla O’Sullivan
It was not the ringing of the servant’s bell in Downton Abbey that summoned forth Mr. Bates last week. Still wearing black, but unencumbered by a limp, he climbed onto the stage set up in Mutual Of America’s Manhattan headquarters to honor Origin Theatre Company on its 10th anniversary.
It wasn’t quite “Philadelphia, Here I Come” for Brendan Coyle, who plays the lame valet in the hit TV series “Downton Abbey”. However, it was while performing in Brian Friel’s play about an Irishman emigrating to the U.S. that Coyle first met Origin founder and Limerick native George Heslin.
That was 20 years ago in London. The two shared a dressing room and a close friendship since. “I love George,” Coyle said in an interview at the end, adding that he flew to New York especially for Origin’s spring benefit.
Coyle’s presence not only helped draw close to 200 people to the $200-a-head event, but contributed $20,000 from one fan determined to have lunch with the maddening yet alluring Mr. Bates.
Sandra Doshner, a retired lab technician from Ridge, L.I., said she was partly spurred into making the winning bid by some of the other thousands of Downton Abbey fans on Facebook, ranging as far afield as St. Petersburg. “For $20,000, some said he [Coyle] should be dessert!
“I know that’s naughty, but the lid’s off the box,” added Doshner, who conveyed her determination to have fun after a life of much duty and sacrifice.
That stoic side she shares with Mr. Bates, arguably the most frustrating character in the period drama because he repeatedly endures hardship rather than speaking in his defense. Coyle, an Olivier-winning actor for whom the part was specially written, says, “There’s a stocism to Mr. Bates we don’t readily relate to today, and a ferocious loyalty”.
Coyle said he draws on these qualities in his father, “a working man” from Omagh. He got his introduction to method acting in Dublin’s Focus Theater, co-founded by his aunt Mary Elizabeth Burke-Kennedy.
Naturally, Coyle won’t be drawn when asked the question my sister, and others, ask: Did he kill his wife? Mr. Bates was found guilty and jailed at the end of the last season. Coyle blushes, but returns an inscrutable expression, when asked would he be crushed if Mr. Bates were cut from the series.
Oddly for an actor, he said, “I keep asking them to cut my lines. Less is more.” He adds, “Mr. Bates is a slow-burner and we’re going to see amazing things from him in series three”.
Although multi award-winning Downton Abbey is wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and reportedly out-tweeted both the royal wedding and the Superbowl, Coyle, said he doesn’t necessarily consider Downton the apex of his career.
“TV and theater and very different,” he said, adding, “I hope my next theater production will be in New York with Origin”. That could be this fall, he said.
Origin created the 1st Irish Theater festival here in 2008. Within three years, 34 million people had heard of it, Artistic Director Heslin told the gathering.
Praise was shared from many quarters, including Mayor Bloomberg’s office; patron Tim Kennon and actress Geraldine Hughes were honored; and the Irish Echo even got mentioned in a rap reviewing Origin’s 10-year existence.
“Broadway, here I come!” was Hughes’ prediction for Origin 10 years from now. Much as how Coyle and Heslin had their play transferred from a theater-restaurant to London’s West End? It was, Coyle said, “a game changer.”
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
I love vinyl records. Cover art, gatefolds, paper sleeves, bonus inserts, colored vinyl, volvelles, secret lockgroove messages – they’re fun, and there’s a lot of real estate that can be dispatched to creatively enhance the music itself. New media – i.e. thinking beyond the CD as the primary vehicle for delivering music – has similar creative potential, as it gives musicians new ways to be creative while opening new ways of reaching out to their fans.
Take, for example, the Boston-based band the Ivy Leaf. Comprised of Daniel Accardi (fiddle, concertina), Armand Aromin (fiddle, whistle), Caroline O’Shea (flute, whistle, vocals) and Lindsay Straw (bouzouki, guitar, vocals), the group’s recently released self-titled first album features nimble playing and skilled arrangements that convey a great enthusiasm for traditional Irish music. Straw’s voice on “Raglan Road” and O’Shea’s on “The Night Visiting Song” are both lovely. She transforms material often associated with Luke Kelly in to something her own, striking a nice balance with the numerous instrumental tracks.
The savvy they’ve shown for thinking outside the jewel case in something many artists in trad music might take a closer look at. Like an increasing number of groups in other genres, the Ivy Leaf’s physical CD is a somewhat bare bones offering, including only thank yous, recording credits and the briefest of introductory notes. What they do, though, is direct people to their website for booking information, tour dates, bios and extended liner notes (which despite being fairly essential to Irish music, are too often overlooked in the world of downloading). There, fans will also find live performance videos, news updates, links to the group’s Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, CD Baby, Bandcamp and YouTube pages, a mailing list signup and a link to the Ivy Leaf’s EPK (electronic press kit) on the ReverbNation website. Essentially, the group puts the physical and the electronic versions of their album on equal footing.
This is a smart arrangement that might seem like overkill to some, but it ensures the group can be found easily, respond to fan inquiries quickly, and reach out directly when necessary. It’s a smart, tight presentation that integrates the various moving publicity pieces while reaching out directly to a younger (and hopefully growing) demographic that embraces marketing via social network and increasingly eschews physical product.
Ryan McGiver, a singer and guitar player well known in Irish trad circles, is another artist that has taken a unique and engaging approach to releasing his music. His recent “Troubled in Mind,” an album of American murder ballads co-produced with Shahzad Ismaily, is brilliant and features many of the New York City’s top, most seasoned trad musicians, including Cillian Vallely, Eamon O’Leary, Susan McKeown, Cleek Schrey, Pat Mangan, Dana Lyn and Matt Mancuso. Although it isn’t “Irish” music in style, it’s great music that’s been well reviewed in folk publications and was recently (and rightly) made one of fRoots magazine’s top picks.
What McGiver did that distinguished his album from others was to release it first on a USB “stick” drive. “It’s an easier and more efficient way of promoting music,” McGiver reasoned. “I was working on several things for the album, and I wanted to present all of it together in one place. The USB drive made that possible.”
With this format, McGiver could approximate – even extend – the kind of user experience long playing records offered. In addition to the full album, the drive includes a full-size PDF of lyrics each paired with an original Neil Driscoll painting, two professional music videos and a gallery of early recordings and cover art that inspired McGiver’s work. This material not only helps people better understand who McGiver is as an artist, but it gives his music visual element that enriches the musical experience.
Admittedly, this is somewhat unfamiliar territory for most. Many well established artists are not in any hurry to embrace the challenges this new media presents, especially when most trad fans still seem most comfortable with physical product. (McGiver even did a recent run of physical CDs for those who prefer them.) But keep in mind times are rapidly changing: Nielsen SoundScan’s 2011 year end update reported that digital music sold more than physical copy for the first time last year with 50.3 percent of all music purchases. This figure has been increasing steadily over the last several years (46 percent in 2010, 40 percent in 2009 and 32 percent in 2008), and will likely continue to rise.
If you’re a traditional Irish musician and wish to submit your music for review, please visit http://danieltneely.com and click on “Contact” in the right hand column to contact me. I prefer receiving submissions in MP3 form accompanied by a PDF of the album cover and liner notes, delivered via whichever file sharing or digital file delivery service you use.
Originally published in the March 10-16, 2004, edition of the Irish Echo.
By Peter McDermott
When it’s time to close the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin, curator Raphael Siev performs certain rituals. The retired civil servant, for example, climbs a stepladder outside the front door at 3 Walworth Rd. and takes the tricolor down from the flagpole. He’s on familiar territory here in Portobello, beside the Grand Canal. He’s known this building since childhood when his family started going to the synagogue there, after the smaller one they attended folded.
In 1912, the Walworth Road Hebrew Congregation joined together two modest red-bricked terraced houses built in 1870. Services took place until 1970 on the upper level, which had been restored for visitors to see.
The ground floor was a community meeting place, which now houses the museum’s large collection, displayed thematically in tall glass cases. In an alcove there’s a preserved kitchen with the original 1870 stone floor and fire place. Subsequent layers, such as the sink and the two sets of presses to facilitate kosher cooking, were added long before Siev’s time.
“It’s important to show there was a vibrant, active and integrated Jewish community who put down roots here, who became part and parcel of Irish life,” he said. “We’ve played our role — this is what the museum is showing.”
It’s not that difficult to get to Portobello. About a mile south of Dame Street and the Temple Bar district, one must negotiate Kelly’s Corner, a confluence of streets that has been transformed more than any patch of the city by the frenzy of building of recent years. Tall 21st century glass and concrete structures rise above the streets that twist and turn for reasons long forgotten.
However, off to the right is a boulevard, Harrington Street, extending into the South Circular Road up to Leonard’s Corner, that has remained largely the same for decades, other than the great diversity of its pedestrians.
Most immigrants are probably unaware of Portobello’s previous experience with multiculturalism, when Catholics, Protestants and Jews coexisted for generations. Siev reeled off the locations of the smaller synagogues: Haytesbury Street, Camden Street, Bloomfield Avenue, Oakfield Place. His own family went to Lombard Street West. There was one in an attic on Lennox Street, another in a backroom on St. Kevin’s Parade. “Joyce mentions several of them in ‘Ulysses,’ ” he said.
The right turn at Leonard’s Corner leads into Lower Clanbrassil Street, “Little Jerusalem,” the famous commercial heart of the Jewish community in Dublin, and the beginning of a back route into the city center, via the Liberties and the city’s great medieval cathedrals, Christ’s Church and St. Patrick’s Street. There were Jewish grocers, butchers, dairies, drapers, shoemakers, delicatessens, tobacconists, bakers, liquor stores and others.
“It was a great center of activity every day except Saturday,” Siev remembered.
Joyce had his hero Leopold Bloom born a few yards in the other direction, on Upper Clanbrassil Street, which was never particularly Jewish. In any case, his year of birth is placed some time before immigrants were identified with the neighborhood. But nobody’s complaining, not least the museum at Walworth Road, which proudly devotes one glass case to one of literature’s most famous Irishmen, who is also one its most famous Jews.
There were 341 Jews in Ireland, according to the census of 1861, presumably of Central and Western European origin. But most Irish Jews, who came later, like most American Jews, were Yiddish speakers from the Pale of Settlement, that part of Greater Russia, including Lithuania and much of Poland, to which they were confined.
The assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 was followed by ferocious state-directed pogroms against the Jewish people, which in turn sparked a decades-long migration westward.
The overwhelming majority landed in North America, but at least 0.1 percent of the new Diaspora made their home in Ireland, and the Jewish population of the country increased tenfold within the space of a few years. Among them were Raphael Siev’s Lithuanian-born maternal grandparents, who settled in Limerick before the turn of the century. In that city, a series of lurid and bigoted sermons by a Redemptorist priest the Rev. John Creagh, beginning on Jan. 18, 1904, set off the worst anti-Semitic episode in Irish history. Though there were some assaults on people, causing serious injury, it’s best known for the economic impact on the Jewish people.
“The full effect of that was that most of the Jewish people living in Limerick, only about 30 families, were impoverished because there was an absolute boycott,” Siev said.
“They had to live on charity sent in from Dublin, England and America. The vast majority left. But my mother’s parents decided to stick it out. They lived through difficult times, but stayed until the 1920s.”
A few more immigrant families took a chance on Limerick, so they weren’t alone. “The boats were still coming,” he said.
Siev’s father was born in Liverpool, spent his teenage years in Drogheda, Co. Louth, and moved to work in Dublin by his early 20s, in the years before the World War I. “He was in recycling, which is very fashionable today,” he said.
Albert Siev had a wheelbarrow and went around six mornings a week to pubs and cafes, where he collected whiskey bottles, beer bottles, Guinness bottles and jam jars. “He would bring them to a small garage he had in Summerhill [in the north inner city] and he would wash them and sort them, put them onto trays,” his son said. And he sold them back to Guinness’s and the other breweries, the distilleries, Fruitfield jam company and other factories.
On his rounds with his wheelbarrow on Easter Monday, 1916, Albert Siev, stood amazed like other passers-by who’d stopped outside Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, as a contingent of the Irish Citizen Army announced its revolutionary intentions before walking up to join the Irish Volunteers at the GPO. Among the Citizen Army’s ranks that day was one J. Weeks, who was Jewish. He died in the fighting a few days later.
Albert Siev moved in time into trading secondhand furniture. The family settled on Emorville Avenue, off the South Circular Road. There were no incidents equivalent to the events in Limerick and community relations were harmonious, on the surface at least. However, Siev’s childhood and youth, coinciding in part with the war years, was not free of anti-Semitism. He was hit more than once. And, on occasion, pupils from the Jewish day school, who learned their subjects through the Irish language, were attacked by stone-throwing boys their own age. “I was told I was a ‘dirty Jew,’ ‘go back to you where you came from,’ ‘you don’t belong here,’ ” he recalled. “They were just repeating what their elders were saying and thinking.”
For Siev, this hostility was reflected at the official level. “Not one Jewish person was admitted into Ireland between 1933, when Hitler came to power, and 1939, when immigration had to cease from mainland Europe,” he said.
He referred to two examples of the policy, which the museum documents. In one, the minister turned down a plea from refugee groups in Geneva for Ireland to accept some leading engineers.
“These were top engineers, who would have been of benefit to any country that wanted to establish industry,” Siev said. “We lost great opportunities in this country.”
The other concerned a man who owned a hat factory. “He was allowed to stay, his wife was sent back to Paris,” he said. “She was caught [by the Nazis].”
He added: “It’s unbelievable that even a partner of a man who was allowed to open a factory here, ran it through the war, and he lost his wife. It boggles the mind that this policy was so rigid.”
Rise and decline
It was in the years after the war that the Jewish community reached its peak in population, 5,500. Many Jewish families saw their economic situation improve from generation to generation. The immigrant might be a peddler, his son would own a small store, and his grandsons would be groomed for the professions. “That’s the way with all migrant communities,” Siev said.
The 1950s saw an Irish Jew become more famous, at least for a time, than Leopold Bloom. Bob Briscoe was appointed lord mayor by his fellow members of Dublin Corporation in 1956.
Ben Briscoe, who inherited his father’s Fianna Fail seat, in the Irish fashion, was joined by two co-religionists in the Dail in the early 1980s: Alan Shatter of Fine Gael and the Labor Party’s Mervyn Taylor. The community seems particularly proud of the popular, mild-mannered Taylor, who reached cabinet rank, serving as minister of equality and law reform between 1994 and 1997.
But many families, the Sievs among them, would not see fourth and fifth generations staying in Ireland. Raphael Siev became a lawyer, working for most of his career in the Department of Foreign Affairs, mainly at home in Dublin, but also serving abroad for a five-year period, as deputy head of mission in Copenhagen in the early 1980s. Now he and his brother Stanley are the end of the line.
The reasons for the terminal decline have been debated endlessly. There were recriminations and soul-searching: had the elders done enough to keep the young people in Ireland? Siev himself believes that the message that the state he loyally served gave the wrong message at a crucial moment in its history. Others argued it was difficult for a small religious minority to feel fully at home in a country where identity was wrapped up with the Catholic religion and the soil. And that it was easier to be religiously observant in bigger communities in Britain and America. While some said it was just another Irish immigrant story: there were better opportunities elsewhere.
In time, Jewish Clanbrassil Street, the emotional center of the community’s experience in Ireland, disappeared slowly, store by store. The last butcher’s shop, Ehrlich’s, was kept afloat for years by the Jewish Representative Council until it closed in 2001. The street in any case had been widened in the 1980s and bore little resemblance to what was once there. There are just 1,000 Jews now in Dublin. And as Ireland attracts immigrants and temporary workers from every continent, the Irish-Jewish story has become something of a curiosity.
On a recent winter afternoon, there was no shortage of visitors making their way to Siev’s door. Among them were two German-American sisters from the Midwest, with grown children in tow. One of the women converted to Judaism after she married. A Chinese man, visiting with his wife, reminded Siev that his home city of Shanghai was a refuge for many European Jews fleeing the Nazis. All were impressed with what they saw at Walworth Road.
Siev has been moving force behind the museum since the idea was first mentioned 30 years ago. He was a strong supporter of turning the old synagogue into a museum. It might not have seemed the ideal project to put to a community already a little traumatized by its decline. But Siev was determined. And he cooperated with another man, Asher Benson, who was also building a collection.
Silja Mueller, a non-Jewish Swiss-born woman, who volunteers once a week at the museum, hinted at one reason for its success. She initially went to Walworth Road to research an acting role. When her work was done, and she was leaving, apparently for the last time, Siev said to her: “You’ll be back next Sunday?” She did come back. “Raphael can be very persuasive,” she said.
(Admission to the Irish Jewish Museum is free. It is open Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from May 1 through Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 through Apil 30 it is opens Sundays only from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
By Peter McDermott
Anne Rodda’s surname is English, courtesy of her late husband Jim’s Cornwall roots. She herself is German and Danish on her father’s side, but it’s to mother’s Irish heritage that she has always returned time and again.
It helped that after the Roddas had raised their four children, she embarked on a career as a genealogist. Then, two years ago, she took the ultimate step of relocating from Little Falls, N.J., to Tuam, Co. Galway.
“Jim and I visited here many times over a period of about 10 years, and we both loved the place and couldn’t really say why in particular. We just felt comfortable here,” she recalled. “We loved all of Ireland, traveled about to all the counties of the Republic on different trips, but always included a week or two here in Tuam.”
Said Rodda, who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s: “I came here first because my grandmother was from Kilbannon and I was curious. I then kept coming back because we had developed friendships, [and] found some of my cousins, and we seemed to have a connection to the place.”
Rodda, who had obtained a B.A. and a Master’s degree over the years, decided after she was widowed to study for a D. Litt. with an emphasis on Irish studies at Drew University.
“I had finished the course work, two years’ worth, and started the dissertation when I began to think it was time for me to move somewhere else,” she recalled, “and the idea of Ireland kept coming back as I thought about the choices open to me.
“It seemed like a good idea to go to a place that was different enough for starting a new life, and yet where I felt as if I belonged,” said Rodda, who stays with her daughter in New Jersey during her trips back to this side of Atlantic.
Rodda said of Tuam: “The people are friendly. There is an energy: people bustling about with things to do, but always having a minute to stop and chat if you meet in a shop or on the street. It has a small-town feeling but not dull — busy enough as the center of things in this part of County Galway, and near enough to Galway City to spend a day there.
“And Tuam is in easy reach of so many beautiful spots in the countryside and all along the glorious West Coast of Ireland,” she said. “I think it’s important to live in a town where you have roots. There is that feeling of a link to the past, and of course as a genealogist and historian I couldn’t be in a better place. Being on the committee of the Old Tuam Society has been a great way to be with friends who share those interests.”
Now, Rodda and the committee are organizing “The Irish-American Link: People, Places and Culture” for the weekend of July 13-15. “This conference is expanding that circle [of friends] and it’s always nice to be part of a constructive venture,” she said.
By Peter McDermott
The deep ties between Ireland and North America have long been a focus of Christine Kinealy’s scholarship. Recently, though, she’s become intrigued by perhaps the most literal of them. For the Drew University professor is researching the background to the telegraph cables that were laid across the ocean floor between Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, and Valentia Island, Co. Kerry, in the 1850s and 1860s.
At a recent Midtown Manhattan meeting reviewing plans for a conference in Tuam, Co. Galway, from July 13-15, about the links between the West of Ireland and North America she said: “If I had a choice, I would speak about that.”
Anne Rodda, who is helping to coordinate the event in Tuam, was delighted to hear about the topic and also that her former teacher would speak. “Christine is the person who suggested the conference,” she said. “She asked to see if we could get something going.”
The organizers of “The Irish-American Link: People, Places and Culture,” which is being jointly sponsored by the Old Tuam Society and Drew University, are happy with the progress they’ve made so far. “It’s evolving,” said Rodda, a long-time New Jersey resident who now lives in County Galway.
President Michael D. Higgins has agreed to open the conference on Friday evening, July 13. The Irish Echo and Kean University’s Terry Golway will give a keynote address during the weekend on the late New York Gov. Hugh Carey, whose paternal grandfather came from the village of Milltown near Tuam. Raymond Gillespie, of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and his colleague Gerard Moran are both expected to participate. Other speakers slated to attend in July are Rosa Meehan, the curator at the Museum of Country Life, Sinead McCoole of the Jackie Clarke Collection and musicologist and folklorist P.J. Curtis.
Kinealy’s model for the conference was the annual Parnell Summer School. “It links local experts and academics,” she said. “It’s more accessible to a general public than an academic conference.”
The story of the transatlantic telegraph cable with its cast of interesting characters, such as Paul Reuter, is one that has broad appeal, believes Kinealy, a native of Liverpool. The successful transmission of messages across the Atlantic heralded a communications revolution, and it was a cause of rejoicing in major cities such as New York. It also had a geopolitical dimension.
“The British government was very, very sensitive about it,” Kinealy said of the new station that communicated with the empire.
Irish nationalists on both sides of the ocean were aware of the potential vulnerability from Britain’s point of view, but never found a way to exploit it successfully, though they tried in 1916.
Another aspect of the story was the campaign to have the cable go to Connacht. “Galway did want to take it away from Kerry,” said Kinealy, whose most recent book is “The Saddest People the Sun Sees: Daniel O’Connell and Anti-Slavery.” Ultimately, however, Valentia’s physical features won the day.
County Galway would have to wait until Alcock and Brown’s transatlantic flight from Newfoundland for its moment of international glory. Meanwhile, many tens of thousands of immigrants from the county had made their home in America in the decades leading up that historic 1919 flight, Rodda’s maternal grandmother among them.
Rodda, who grew up in Brooklyn, found the pile of stones in Kilbannon that had been the family home on her first trip with her late husband Jim some years ago. At the end of 2009, the mother of four and grandmother to eight opted to relocate to the center of Tuam. “I don’t drive in Ireland,” said Rodda, a professional genealogist who finished her doctorate in Irish studies from Drew under Kinealy’s direction.
After her relocation, she quickly threw herself into the activities of the Old Tuam Society, which seeks to preserve the town’s rich history dating back to its settlement in the Bronze Age, and is now coordinating “The Irish-American Link: People, Places and Culture” with Anne Tierney, the editor of the society’s journal JOTS, and Marie Mannion, the heritage officer for County Galway.
For more information about “The Irish-American Link: People, Places and Culture” email Anne Rodda at email@example.com.
By Peter McDermott
In 1940 in the Katyn Forest, 20,000 Polish officers were put to death on the orders of the Soviet dictator Stalin and his henchman Beria, who’d initially suggested the plan.
It made sense from a purely military point of view. If you kill your prisoners you don’t run the risk of having to fight them later on.
This is what General Francisco Franco was thinking when he had a far greater number of POWs done to death during and after the Spanish Civil War, a three-year conflict that followed a failed military attempt to overthrow democracy.
Factions on the pro-democracy Republican side to be sure were involved in horrific atrocities, which included the murder of religious and the burning of churches. But the Red Terror paled in comparison – no pun intended — to the White Terror.
Most leading historians of the Spanish Civil War argue that the violence in the Republican zone was a result of the breakdown of law and order and the spread of anarchy. They say that, in contrast, the larger scale killing behind Nationalist lines was sanctioned by military and political leaders. In any case, in that pre-World War II period, even Franco’s Nazi and Italian fascist allies were horrified at the executions of captured combatants. Yet, there was method in his madness. He outlived their regimes, after all, by 30 years.
Franco wasn’t an ideological fascist. He brought together, however, the Falangists, who were, with other rightists such as the Carlists into the Movimiento Nacional, which ran the one-party state for decades. Franco himself was close to Carlism, which was traditionalist, authoritarian and monarchist, and in that regard he had a kindred ally in the Catholic group Opus Dei, founded in 1928, by the young Fr. Josemaría Escrivá (who is now Saint Josemaría).
Interestingly, there is a Republican (of the U.S. variety) with documented ties to Opus Dei running in the primaries. As you’d expect, he stresses fealty to traditional marriage and pro-life values and is rather less attached to concepts like social justice.
It should be stressed, though, that links to groups or people are merely clues to who they are or what they really believe. If you can’t add some context to such links, then they’re hardly worth bothering about. Unfortunately our political discourse has become so infantile and dumbed down – Hannitized, you might say – that it’s become really difficult for us to address these issues sensibly.
It seems more important to put people in the same room together – i.e. good old-fashioned guilt by association – than to listen closely to what they say they are and how they define themselves. So in the last election cycle we heard a great deal about the hitherto obscure Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers, and we continue to. This is all about electoral politics. Few seem to be much bothered now that President Nixon met with Chairman Mao — though many conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr., were horrified at the time – or that Donald Rumsfeld once shook the hand of Saddam Hussein, or that President Eisenhower went to Madrid at Franco’s invitation. It’s hardly news that politicians can form some strange alliances.
I’m guessing that the former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum never palled around with the Spanish dictator. (Actually, he has said that his grandfather fled the fascists in Italy, and last week the weekly newsmagazine Oggi reported that his anti-fascist relatives, including his ancestor, had close ties to the Italian Communist Party.) But, does it matter that Santorum has spoken at Opus Dei events or that he sends two of his children to a Washington DC school run by the group? No. Does it help clarify aspects of his worldview for us? To some extent, yes, if we study his statements closely.
He once flailed presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s distinction between private religious conviction and public responsibility and said it had done “much harm in America.” At that same event, a Rome symposium in 2002 in honor of the founder Saint Josemaría, he called George W. Bush the “first Catholic president” of the U.S. Yes, that guy who the following year invaded a Middle Eastern country and made a complete and bloody mess of it. What’s all that about? Well, elements of the Catholic right saw in Bush someone who believed in a much closer relationship between church and state. Prominent Opus Dei priest the Rev. C. John McCloskey III even publicly expressed the hope that W. would follow his brother Jeb into the church. McCloskey, it might be added, has a well-publicized track record in converting inside-the-Beltway rightists to Catholicism, including reportedly Newt Gingrich.
Politics and societal upheaval feature in a piece of speculative fiction McCloskey wrote at the turn of the millennium entitled “2030: Looking Backwards.” In it, a 76-year-old priest, Fr. Charles, refers to the “battles” that led to the breakup of the U.S into the Regional States of North America. And before that, apparently, there was a serious persecution involving “tens of thousands of martyrs and confessors.” Fr. Charles himself was in the latter category, but tells a newly ordained priest that “those few years in prison and the torture were wonderful for my spiritual life…”
One of the fragments of the old U.S. has a Catholic majority (of the right sort, mind you – none of your liberals, thank you very much) whose ranks have been supplemented by converts from evangelical Protestantism, presumably disappointed at the failure of the rapture to materialize. And the first president’s initials are R.S. (Okay, I invented that last part.)
The uneasy settlement followed the “final short and relatively bloodless conflict.” There was nothing relatively bloodless, though, about the events that led to the last church-state fusion in the Western world. It was built on a foundation of mass murder. Opus Dei wasn’t involved in that, to be fair, but the group flourished mightily in the Francoist state. Escrivá had created a corps of militant Catholics who would take monastic vows and then go out into the world to seek leadership positions in business, media and politics. They were the brightest and the best. When, at one point, the Falangists wanted the Opus Deistas removed from cabinet, Franco defended his ministers saying: “Their loyalty to the regime and to me personally is absolute, and above all, they are perfect gentlemen.”
But fear not; those courteous men are opportunists not plotters. While Fr. McCloskey might seem to pine for a Francoist order, one without the excessive viciousness, it’s not going to happen. Santorum might like to see a Catholic theocracy (logically, that is his position), but the pundits say he can’t win a primary.
Nevertheless, it is amusing that a half-century after JFK’s candidacy fueled anti-Catholic paranoia, so many Protestants flock to a politician who really does listen to the Vatican. Not, of course, on the minor issues of invading other countries or child poverty, but the important stuff concerning faith and morals.
By Peter McDermott
The immigrants built and continue to build New York City. Few, though, if any, have had quite the impact on how it looks than Kevin Roche.
Not that the world-renowned architect set out to be an emigrant. “I was really just going to graduate school,” Roche said from his office in Hamden, Conn.
He recalled that when he went to get his visa at the American consulate in Dublin, the official asked if he wanted a green card. “I didn’t know what a green card was and he said: ‘We’ve got lots. You might as well have one.’”
That was almost 64 years ago. After a year at graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology (he’d also been accepted at Yale and Harvard) he applied to work with the Finish-American architect Eero Saarinen in New York.
It was the beginning of a glittering and extraordinary career, one that is being acknowledged at the Museum of the City of New York exhibit “Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment” showing through Feb. 6.
He hasn’t stopped since those immediate post-war years. “These days it’s just five days a week, sometimes six,” said Roche, who is currently working as always on multiple projects.
His resume for recent years includes the Lafayette Tower, Washington DC, and the Dublin Conference Center in the city of his birth (both projects took four years to completion in 2009).
Roche was raised in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, where his father was the manager of the country’s largest and most famous creamery. “He was the one who got Galtee Cheese and all that stuff started,” he said.
The idea for Roche’s own career took root at the Holy Ghost Fathers’ boarding school in County Tipperary. “People didn’t know what an architect was in those days. But I went to Rockwell, and happened to get interested in some books in the library,” he remembered.
After graduation from University College Dublin, he had stints working with Maxwell Fry in London and with Michael Scott in Dublin
“When I was in Chicago I decided I’d like to work at the United Nations,” said Roche, who is married and has five children and 12 grandchildren.
In the 1950s, he became head of design at Saarinen’s firm and when he died, Roche and his colleague John Dinkeloo completed his projects. The two men renamed the firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. (It retains the name more than 30 years after Dinkeloo’s death.)
In 1981, Roche became the fourth winner (Philip Johnson was the first) of the Pritzker Prize, which is given to a living architect “whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”
He was awarded the Gold Medal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1990, and the AIA Gold Medal awarded by the American Institute of Architects “in recognition of a significant body of work of lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.”
In the large-format book accompanying the exhibit, which began at Yale and will likely travel to Ireland, Eeva Liisa Pelkonen calls Roche “ an architect of unpredictable structures for unpredictable times”
She adds: “Roche’s cerebral approach to design is based on the belief that an architect cannot rely solely intuition but must gather all available information before proceeding with a design.
“One of Roche’s major contributions has been the introduction of research-based design methods that acknowledge the dynamic forces shaping the built environment of the post-industrial world.”
But Pelkonen also attributes his success to his ability to communicate his ideas: “Whether Roche is in a boardroom, at a public meeting, or in a television studio, his oratorical skills are second to none, helping to explain why he has been able to persuade clients to accept and execute designs that, in may cases, have drastically challenged existing architectural conventions and paradigms.”