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Three months since ‘waiver’ letter

POSTED ON May 25th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Ambassador Kevin O’Malley

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

It is three months this week since a letter was sent by Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs to the U.S. Embassy in Dublin on the matter of visa waivers for the undocumented Irish.

Receipt of the letter was acknowledged by the embassy, and there was also an indication that a reply would be forthcoming.

In the intervening months there have been discussions on the waiver issue between senior officials and political figures in both the Irish and U.S. government.

Irish foreign affairs minister, Charlie Flanagan, and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Kevin O’Malley, are understood to have discussed waivers on at least two occasions in the last month or so.

And the plight of the undocumented Irish has come up for discussion in the Dáil in recent days.

In a Dáil questions and answers session, Fianna Fáil TD, Brendan Smith, asked Minister Flanagan “if he will provide an update on his efforts on behalf of undocumented Irish emigrants in the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

A reply on behalf of the minister stated: “Achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants in the U.S. is a priority for the Government in our contacts with the United States.

“Through our Embassy in Washington and our Consulates throughout the U.S., we continue to work closely with high level Government contacts and with many other individuals and groups across Irish America and beyond. All of this work is aimed at achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants in the United States and improved channels for legal migration between Ireland and America.

“During his visit to the U.S. in March and in a series of high level contacts with the U.S. Administration, with Congress and at State level, the Taoiseach raised the issue of immigration reform and the plight of the undocumented Irish, stressing that almost every family in Ireland is related to or knows somebody who is caught up in this deeply distressing situation.

“During his meeting with President Obama on 17 March the Taoiseach commended him on his executive action announced late last year. This action is currently the subject of legal proceedings in the U.S. federal courts. The Taoiseach emphasized the need to allow the undocumented to come out of the shadows and be free to travel home for family events.

“He also highlighted the issue of those amongst the Irish undocumented who might be eligible for visas, but who would be required to return to Ireland for their issuance and hence would require waivers for their prior period of undocumented residence.

“The Taoiseach also pointed to the need for a legal pathway to allow for future Irish immigration to the U.S. for those who wish to make a contribution there, expressing the hope that a political way forward could be found on this issue which would encourage progress on a comprehensive legislative package by Congress.

President Obama spoke of his executive actions on immigration reform and acknowledged the contribution of Irish immigrants to America’s development. He considered that one of the great strengths of the United States had always been its willingness to welcome new immigrants to its shores.

“I also raised immigration reform issues, including the possibility of immigration reform legislation and the question of visa waivers, when I met with Vice President Biden in Boston on 30 March. I have also had the opportunity to discuss these matters on a number of occasions recently with U.S. Ambassador O’Malley.

“In addition, the Taoiseach discussed immigration issues with Congressman Paul Ryan during his recent visit to Dublin on 30 March. The Government as a whole, including my Department in Dublin and our Embassy in Washington, will continue to actively follow up on all of the issues raised in recent contacts with the US Administration, with Congress and with the U.S. Embassy in Ireland.”

The waiver issue focuses on permitting undocumented immigrants to travel back to Ireland without triggering the three or ten year bars that would prevent them from returning to the U.S.

As the Irish Echo previously reported, it is possible to obtain visa waivers permitting travel back to Ireland, and, critically, a return to the United States.

But Ireland trails a number of countries in terms of securing visa waivers according to figures compiled by the U.S. State Department.

A list of the top twelve waiver-winning countries for the past three fiscal years shows Ireland in eighth place in each of those years.

In fiscal 2014, Irish applicants were granted 118 waivers, though there were also 280 refusals.

Ireland trails Mexico which is in first place with 8398 waivers in fiscal ’14, though Mexican applicants were also refused 35244 times.
Interestingly, the second place in the waivers-gained table, at 2211, is occupied by “Great Britain and N. Ireland,” which would presumably mean that some Irish passport holders from the North secured waivers to travel.

The figures were obtained by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform which has been campaigning for an end to the exclusion bars.

Also ahead of Ireland in the table, and beginning with third place, were Australia, Bermuda, Colombia, Norway and New Zealand. Immediately trailing Ireland in the list were Germany, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Japan.

Waivers that remove the three and ten year bars are a matter for U.S. embassies and consulates, hence the importance of a response to the DFA letter from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin

In a “guidance” document for such diplomatic outposts, the State Department highlights the discretionary powers that embassies and consulates retain in the matter of waivers.

The document states in part: “ The Congress, in enacting INA 212(d)(3)(A), conferred upon the Secretary of State and consular officers the important discretionary function of recommending waivers for nonimmigrant visa (NIV) ineligibilities to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for approval.

“You should not hesitate to exercise this authority when the alien is entitled to seek waiver relief and is otherwise qualified for a visa, and when the granting of a waiver is not contrary to U.S. interests.

“The proper use of this authority should serve to further our immigration policy supporting freedom of travel, exchange of ideas, and humanitarian considerations, while at the same time ensuring, through appropriate screening, that our national welfare and security are being safeguarded.”

In cases where waivers are granted it is often the case that the applicant might be a parent of a U.S. citizen child or children, even though the applicant, he or she, might be undocumented.

Florida rescinds its MacBride Law

POSTED ON May 22nd  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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The State Capitol building in Tallahassee

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

As expected, Governor Rick Scott of Florida has signed a state budget bill that includes, in its multitudinous line items, a bill that rescinds the state’s MacBride Principles law.

The budget bill, which had to be passed in totality or not at all, was signed by Scott Thursday even as Ancient Order of Hibernians members in the state were inundating the governor’s office with calls.

The Florida MacBride law had been on the books since 1988, a year of particularly strong MacBride activity across the U.S.

And in another development, it has emerged that Nebraska, with little fanfare or fuss, rescinded its MacBride law in 2011.

The rescinding was presented in January of that year to legislators on the state’s Retirement Systems Committee as a money saving measure.

The amount saved was, according to a transcript of the committee’s deliberations obtained by the Echo, $8,500.

With Florida and Nebraska subtracted, the principles are today law in just 16 states, though they are also enshrined, since 1998, in U.S. federal law.

The Florida rescinding measure was an item in the overall budget bill generated by “Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement” drawn up for the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

The bill, SB 7024, was then introduced in the Senate back in early March by the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. The impact statement cover page also refers to the State Board of Administration.

The language 7024 is dry and matter of fact; it give virtually no hint of a political hand behind it. The bill even lists the MacBride Principles.

Nevertheless, the rescinding of the Sunshine State’s MacBride code is prompting an immediate pushback from pro-MacBride groups such as the AOH and Irish National Caucus.

In a statement, Greg Seán Canning, AOH Florida State President, expressed “great disappointment” after receiving a call from the governor’s office “informing me that Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 7024 into law.”

Canning continued: “Despite the loss of our initiative to prevent this legislation from becoming law, there is some positive news. First, the Governor’s office stated that they were inundated with phone calls all day. They also stated that they never realized how organized the AOH was and the strength of our response.

“That being said, I would like to express my gratitude for the quick response from our Brothers, Sisters, and Friends both in and outside of Florida. We only learned about Bill 7024 a few days ago. This Bill was held up in committee throughout most of the legislative process. This kept it out of the public eye.

“When it was finally released, the Senate only had two days to consider it. Many knew nothing of its ramifications. They were informed that this legislation would help the economic situation in the North and that because of the progress being made within the 6 Counties, the Mac Bride Principles were no longer needed. By the time this Bill became public knowledge, it was too late.”

Canning followed up with a call to action stating in part: “First, while we would rather engage in a struggle that we would have a better chance of winning, we cannot always turn away from those that offer little to no chance of success.

“There are those situations (this being one of them) when we as an organization must take a stand based on ethics. If we must always base our actions on victories only, then we have failed as an organization with principals. There will be those times when we will have to engage an issue even if there is no chance of success. I believe that this situation needed a strong response from us.

“Going forward, we must all keep a close watch on future economic bills that might serve to alter the current economic situation in Northern Ireland. This bill may well pave the way for stronger legislation in Florida or similar legislation in other States.

“Make no mistake, the MacBride Principles are under attack. We must seriously think of how to inform legislators from other States on the ramifications of removing the protection of the MacBride Principles in Northern Ireland. Doing so can and will reopen the doors of economic discrimination against the Irish Catholic Nationalist population within the 6 Counties.”

Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Irish National Caucus and the most high profile MacBride campaigner in the U.S. since the 1980s, didn’t mince his words describing the Florida rescinding as “anti-Catholic, anti-Irish.

Said the Washington, D.C.-based McManus in a statement released before Governor Scott signed the budget bill: “If Florida’s governor were to sign a Senate Bill to repeal the MacBride Principles, it will be seen as anti-Catholic and anti-Irish — whatever the governor’s intentions.

“Why would the Florida Senate attempt to do this? Who manipulated them in such a way? The MacBride Principles are universally regarded as being the most important and effective campaign ever against anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland.

“The Governor would be profoundly ill-advised to be associated with such an awful act. The MacBride Principles were passed to ensure that Florida dollars would not subsidize anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland. Those who are opposed to these principles will logically and naturally be seen to be anti-Catholic and anti-Irish. That’s politics 101.”

Florida poised to rescind MacBride legislation

POSTED ON May 21st  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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Governor Rick Scott

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

Florida is this week poised to overturn MacBride Principles legislation that has been law in the Sunshine State since 1988.

A rescinding bill, approved by both houses of the state legislature, is reportedly on the desk of Governor Rick Scott.

Scott is expected to sign the measure.

The development is a bolt from the blue as MacBride Principles campaigners – and the many Irish Americans who supported state and municipal MacBride campaigns that began in the early 1980s – have long considered the campaign to be more or less completed.

18 states and over 40 municipalities in the U.S. have MacBride legislation in their legal codes.

Now Florida looks set to reduce the state tally by not just one, but given the state’s size and economic clout, by a big one.

“This bill steamrolled through. There was not one vote in opposition,” Sean Sidway, a leading member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Florida told the Irish Echo.

Hibernians in the state, alerted to the situation and aware that it is the eleventh hour, are now scrambling in an effort to persuade Governor Scott to stay his pen.

But time is not on their side.

Sidway, the chairman of the Florida AOH Freedom For All Ireland Committee, said the bill would completely undermine the 1988 legislation.

Sidway said that the AOH was attempting to identify the original sponsor of the bill and had reached out to some legislators.

A document seen by the Irish Echo indicates that the measure was preceded by a “Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement” drawn up for the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

The bill, SB 7024, was then introduced in the Senate back in early March by the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. The impact statement cover page also refers to the State Board of Administration.

Initial responses from some of the legislators contacted about the bill, according to Sean Sidway, had shown that legislators were either uninterested or “totally uniformed” about the bill, its subject matter, and it likely effects.

“It seems that they (legislators) have been taken in by the optics and are unaware that things are not all fine in Northern Ireland. This bill seems to have been inspired more by a profit motive rather than a moral imperative,” Sidway said.

“That moral imperative is getting lost in the shuffle,” he said.

“It’s really alarming. They (legislators) don’t have a grasp of the situation. You don’t give back what you have fought to achieve,” Sidway said of the late hour AOH bid to stop, or delay, the bill signing.

The MacBride Principles are a set of guidelines aimed at promoting non-discriminatory hiring in Northern Ireland.

They came into being in the early 1980s when Catholics in Northern Ireland were two-and-half times more likely to be unemployed than Protestants.

However, the intent of the principles was to bring about fair employment opportunities for all, regardless of religious or political affiliation.

Signatory states and municipalities require that their pension funds invest only in companies in the North that comply with the principles.

Many U.S. companies operating in Northern Ireland have embraced the principles, named after the late Irish Nobel laureate, Sean MacBride.

The MacBride campaign is seen as having prompted successive British governments to enact their own fair employment legislation in the North.

21 is old enough for many things, but…

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

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Is Áras an Uachtaráin ready for a 21-year-old occupant?

By Sarah Martin
letters@irishecho.com

Anyone who is abreast of Irish politics over the past few weeks knows the word “referendum” is on the tip of just about everyone’s tongue.

Everyone, however, might not be aware that the equal marriage referendum is not the only decision on the cards for Irish voters.

The Irish presidency is unlike that of many other nations, among them the U.S.: the president is not the leader of the government, but rather a constitutional head of state, a representative of the nation who is above party politics.

Irish presidents have been mostly men over the age of 50. Our pair of female presidents were only four years younger than this mark when they were elected.

The official age for a candidate to be eligible to stand for the Irish presidency is 35 (the same as in the U.S.) and the referendum in question would lower this age to 21.

The Journal.ie and The Irish Times have both published articles that speak in favor of a ‘Yes’ vote – the former going so far as to claim that those voting ‘No’ were ageist and clearly don’t value the youth of Ireland.

Both articles seem to favor the opinion that as we still elect our president, the lowering of the age merely gives voters more choice.

Of course this doesn’t force us to install Justin Beiber in Áras an Uachtaráin.

It is also key to note that there is still over a decade between our current age of eligibility and our youngest ever president, so the age limit has not dictated our vote thus far.

However, I found while quizzing my peers about this topic, all in the 20 -30 demographic, that they decidedly fell on the ‘No’ side of the argument. Their reasoning did not reveal a lack of faith in the youth of Ireland, or by extension a lack of faith in themselves, but rather an awareness that at 21 they are not prepared, or were not ready, to represent an entire nation.

One choice phrase that was repeated by all of those in the 25-30 demographic was that they felt a huge difference in themselves, and great growth between the ages of 21 and 25 often saying “I was a different person then.”

In essence, they felt that at 21 they were still forming into the adults they would become.

Even the most politically minded, well informed, eloquent 21-year-old is, from what I have seen in my friends and acquaintances, in constant flux. They are still finding themselves, and is the best place to do that as the figurehead leader of a republic?

That being said, when I continued to discuss the referendum with my fellow twenty-somethings we all agreed that Ireland could do with a change of image.

So what could a 21-year-old bring to the position that a 35-year-old could not? Why would they even want the job?

Well, first and foremost, your voice will be heard. You are effectively given an audience, and if you are charismatic, young, and vibrant, it is likely people will stay tuned in.

It’s the truth that we live in a world where a young, hopeful activist is especially appealing to the world’s media.

It is certain that some of the world’s young people who have garnered an audience through their own celebrity have been using their voice to try and bring about a change for the better. Most recently, Ireland’s own Saoirse Ronan has been a huge advocate of environmental issues within Ireland and Emma Watson’s “HeForShe” campaign, as well as her work as a UN ambassador, has garnered a huge amount of world attention and acclaim.

Their youth, passion and drive is apparent and it is certainly true that they are putting a voice to the issues of our generation, perhaps previously neglected by heads of state.

When asked what I would hope to achieve were I, at 21, elected President of Ireland, it was this newfound voice that I was most interested in: being able to shine a light on the injustices and hypocrisies, big and small, that take place in our country and many others. Even if I was unable to change them directly, I would be directly able to affect change.

My wish would also be to see gender inequality, and inequalities in general, become something disassociated with the Republic of Ireland; to put forth an image of Ireland that shows us as the free, modern, forward thinking country we are becoming.

Maybe that is naive, and sounds like wishful thinking, but I believe that this is the one thing youth exclusively brings to the table: the sincere belief that we can change the world, and a faith in humanity that is yet untainted.

Nevertheless, I guess my question to those so passionately in favor of lowering the age is why is the immediacy so important?

This hypothetical prodigious 21-year-old they speak of will hopefully still be in existence five or ten years down the road, and if they truly wanted to be the President of Ireland at 21, shouldn’t he/she be willing to wait for that honor?

At 21, if you are lucky enough, you have just graduated with your undergraduate degree. You may not have had to pay bills or rent yet, and have only participated in general elections for three years. You will not have even have voted for your predecessor.

Even if you were the most independent 21-year-old, up to this point your experience of life has been limited. Yes, you might have travelled, or been heavily involved with political organizations, but you can’t know much about the life of someone in a different demographic, not really, and certainly can’t speak for all of them.

Is it not fair, even right for a passionate candidate to take additional years to learn more about the world, live it through more than their own eyes, form their world views, and generally improve themselves?

Personally, I think the age of candidacy should be lowered, but not to 21. Any 30-year-old would still be considered youthful and vibrant, yet also have the experience of the world, and its people, that only comes from living through it.

So if I were in Ireland to vote on Friday, May 22nd, I would be voting ‘No’ to the referendum in question, not because I think a 21-year-old would make a bad president, but because I think he or she could wait nine years and be a better one.

Sarah Martin was 21 when she began writing this opinion piece last week. She was 22 when she finished it.

Tea and a handshake

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

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Gerry Adams and Prince Charles exchange words and a handshake when they met at University College Galway today. Photocall.

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

The process of reconciliation between Irish republicans and British royalty took another significant step forward today when Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams met with Prince Charles at University College Galway.

Charles and his wife Camilla were on the first day of a four day visit to Ireland.

The meeting was overloaded with symbolism as Charles will be visiting Mullaghmore, County Sligo tomorrow.
The village is where his great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979.

Charles had agreed to the meeting with Adams after it had been requested by the Sinn Féin leader, who was in Galway campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote in Friday’s referendum in the Republic on mixed marriage.

During the brief meeting, Adams and the Prince of Wales smiled at one another and exchanged words.

Charles, holding a tea cup and saucer, cordially greeted Adams who leaned forward to speak close to the prince’s ear several times. Adams then introduced the prince to the man standing next to him, after which Charles continued moving along a line of people waiting to greet him.
Adams is the most senior republican to meet the prince. Martin McGuinness previously met, and shook hands, with Queen Elizabeth.

Said Adams in a statement about the meeting: “Today’s meeting with Prince Charles is a significant symbolic and practical step forward in the process of healing and reconciliation arising from the peace process.

“He and his family were hurt and suffered great loss by the actions of Irish republicans. I am very conscious of this and of the sad loss of the Maxwell family whose son Paul was killed at Mullaghmore, and I thank all involved, including Charles, for their forbearance.

Lord Mountbatten was murdered along with Lady Doreen Brabourne, the 83-year-old mother-in-law of his daughter, his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull, and 14-year-old Paul Maxwell, from Killynur, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.

Rory tees up Irish Open

POSTED ON May 18th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Sport

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Rory McIlroy

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

What do you get when you add the two numbered date, May 28-31, for the upcoming Irish Open golf championship at Royal County Down?

You get 59.

And that’s the score that Rory McIlroy was potentially looking at on the 16th hole in the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship yesterday in Quail Hollow, Charlotte, North Carolina.

In the end, McIlroy finished with two pars and carded a 61.

That said, the County Down native obliterated the tournament four round record while notching up his second win in three PGA tournaments.

McIlroy’s win was also a repeat in that the now 26-year-old’s first PGA victory was in the same tournament at the same venue in 2010.

The victory, then, was a sweet one for McIlroy, but across the Atlantic it was sweeter still as it perfectly tees up the Irish Open and Rory’s starring role in the tournament.

Quail Hollow was McIlroy’s last U.S. outing before flying east for a European tour swing that will be highlighted by the Dubai Duty Free Irish open hosted by, well, The Rory Foundation.

The Open is to be played at the fabled Royal County Down course and so will be as near a home game for McIlroy as his possible.

To say Rory wants to win his first Irish Open, and on this course, would be an understatement.

But McIlroy is also responsible for luring an array of players who will have ideas other than another Rory win.

They include in the in-form Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, and Ernie Els, who has four golf Majors to match Rory’s total to date.

Also in the field will be the other members of the Irish Majors club, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, a winner once again on the PGA tour this year.

Others making tracks for the first tee at Royal County Down include defending champion Mikko Ilonen of Finland, and former world number one, Lee Westwood.

Suffice it to say, the Irish Open, which was teetering on the brink of oblivion just a few years ago, has come back with a roar.

And a Rory.

More at www.irishopen.ie.

USS Barry in NY for Fleet Week

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

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The USS Barry

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

It will be the friendliest of boarding parties.

Members of the Commodore John Barry Club of Brooklyn are planning a most special outing on the morning of Saturday, May 23.

The club and its friends will be invited guests aboard the USS Barry, which will be docked in Staten Island as part of New York’s annual Fleet Week which this year runs May 20-26.

“We are very excited to get the chance to step on board the Barry,” said club president, Mary Nolan.

And the boarding will begin in a place that also speaks of the extraordinary contribution of the American Irish to the United States Navy, and the defense of America.

It will be moored at the USS Sullivans Pier on Staten Island’s Stapleton Waterfront.

The pier is named in honor of the five Sullivan brothers (George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert) aged 20 to 27 who lost their lives when their ship, the USS Juneau, was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13, 1942.
This was the greatest military loss by any one American family during World War II.

Barry Club members and friends will be mustering at 9 a.m. on the 23rd and will travel by chaertered bus to Staten Island. The round trip costs $20. Make out checks to the “Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn” and mail to Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn, P. O. Box 090-824, Brooklyn, NY 11209.

More information available at (718)833-3405 or www.commodorebarryclubbrooklyn.org.

The USS Barry is an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer and was commissioned in 1992. Mary Nolan was present at the event.

It is the fourth navy ship named after the Father and First Flag Officer of the navy, Wexford-born Commodore John Barry (1745–1803).

The Barry’s homeport is Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

Irish is lingua franca in Cannes

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

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By Evan Short
letters@irishecho.com

For the first time ever the glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival will resonate to the sounds of the Irish language, this after a musical written solely in the Irish native tongue was shortlisted for an award.

“Bonsoir Luna” is a short film about a romance between street artist, Duke, and Luna who works in a coffee shop close to where Duke performs.

The dialogue is not only solely in Irish, but all lines are sung by the actors, making it an even more unusual production and part of the reason it caught the eye, and ear, of the Cannes organizers.

Donncha Gilmore wrote and directed the 15 minute film, which was produced by David Cullinan, PJ Moloney, and Philip Hickey for Aminal Productions with the support of Ireland’s Arts Council.

Donncha said he wanted to celebrate the Irish language in a positive way.

“I wanted to make an Irish film that was gleefully and unapologetically optimistic. I also felt that it would be a great opportunity to present the Irish language in a new light, by using the musical genre to showcase its lyricism.”

Federico Rea acted as cinematographer, Glenn Whelan as art director, while Gilmore also edited the picture.

Michael-David McKernan and Hilary Bowen Walsh star as Duke and Luna, respectively. The cast also features Susie Young, Grainne Boyle, Aislinn Ní Uallacháin, Gemma Doherty, Eoghan Regan, and Garret Farrell.

The film’s music was written and arranged by Josh Reichental, with additional contributions by Stephen O’Brien. Recording of the music was carried out at Lamplight Studios, with Stephen Dunne as recording supervisor.

Among Gilmore’s inspirations for the film are the musical films of French director Jaques Demy, which include “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964).

Luna was shot in September 2014 around Dublin and it is hoped the inclusion in the Short Film Corner in Cannes will mark the beginning of an international festival run.

The film has already received development commitments from the Arts Council for a feature adaptation by Aminal Productions, which is still in the early stages.

Tenor Emmet Cahill the latest Midlands star

POSTED ON May 13th  - POSTED IN Arts & Leisure, News, News & Views

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By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Chatting to Emmet Cahill earlier this week is like catching up with a long lost friend. He has a hint of an accent which I strongly suspect is from the Midlands. As Emmet describes it himself, ‘I’m from the middle of the country”, which technically has two meanings: he lives in a rural area which happens to be located in the Midlands of Ireland outside Mullingar, County Westmeath. I ponder on what it is about the Midlands that has an affinity for producing world-renowned tenors: Count John McCormack, Frank Patterson and now my interviewee, Emmet Cahill.  Perhaps it’s the peat? Just as peat is a natural resource generously given to us by nature in this part of Ireland, nature has also given an amazing gift to Emmet which he has cherished and nurtured with the help and support of his amazing parents. Emmet continually refers to his parents during our chat and attributes his success to them.  All I can think is that they have done a beyond amazing job, raising someone who has nurtured and developed his talent and who also manages to be the nicest, most down to earth person one could chat to. 

Emmet Cahill is currently one of Ireland’s most recognized tenors who sweeps listeners away with the emotion of his singing. He is natural and relaxed, two words that consistently come up during our conversation. He is very unassuming, his life on stage is simply a progression of what he has always done growing up: singing and playing music. Emmet displays that typical Irish trait: on the surface, an extremely laid back attitude which totally belies the tremendous talent and courage he has. Emmet is well known for his renditions of John McCormack, another name that comes often during our chat.  In 2010 when Emmet was attending the Royal Irish Academy of Music studying opera and theater, he was awarded the ‘John McCormack Bursary’ for the most promising young tenor. He was also named the most promising young singer at the Academy. He has been a multiple prize winner at the National Feis Ceoil singing competition. In 2013, the Irish American Music Association awarded him with the title “Tenor of the Year’ in recognition of his work on stage here in the United States. 

That is where our paths first crossed.  The first time I heard Emmet perform was in the Beacon Theatre on Broadway in 2011 where he was lead singer with the renowned Irish Music Show; ‘Celtic Thunder’. The opulent Beacon Theatre was very fitting for Emmet’s first US appearance on stage as he seemed to be following in the footsteps of the most renowned tenor in the history of our time, Count John McCormack who himself had performed on Broadway almost a century earlier and who also hailed from County Westmeath. On first hearing the pureness of his mellow tones, I was struck by his depth of feeling. I sat entranced as he sang the beautiful haunting melody; “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears”. Observing the emotion etched deeply into his handsome face, I was never so proud to be Irish, Emmet is as his performances:  eloquent, charming with an underlying depth and a maturity that totally belies his young age.  I had an image of him growing up, with perhaps a grandfather who enjoyed playing dusty 65”s of John McCormack on a wind-up gramophone.  I was pretty close, he was raised listening to some of his Dad’s John McCormack vinyl’s on an old record player. Perhaps the mellow tones of McCormack somehow diffused into his young soul and created this depth of expression and feeling that now speaks to souls all around the world. 

During our chat I am amazed at what Emmet has achieved in the past 4 years, from being chosen at the age of 20 to join world renowned ‘Celtic Thunder’ where he became an immediate hit with the fans. Becoming the lead singer on this show put him in the spotlight and almost immediately he found himself touring many continents and countries including America, Canada and Australia. Now four years later he is just about to launch his first American tour of his solo career.

When did Emmet first start singing and playing music? For Emmet there was no start date, it was simply a natural progression from growing up in a home surrounded by music and singing. His Dad is a music teacher and his Mom is a singer. Therefore music and singing is as intrinsic to the family home as the concrete walls that sustain it. From the age of four, Emmet began to play the piano, guitar and violin and sing. He and his siblings were all classically trained and often accompanied their Mom to local weddings where she was the professional singer. His siblings all play and sing also. Perhaps that’s why Emmet keeps coming back to the fact that he wants his new solo show to be natural, he wants people when they come to his show to feel like they are dropping over to his home for an impromptu sing song and music session. He wants it to be more about an experience rather than listening and watching a performance. 

The success and recognition that Emmet has enjoyed as lead singer of Celtic Thunder over the past four years would be enough to absorb for most, but Emmet knew deep down he had to keep going, to be truly authentic to his own original talents he had to do it solo and that is what he is preparing to do right now. In less than two weeks, he will hit the shores of the US and is doing a whirlwind solo show that will take him cross country from St Louis, Missouri, across the plains to Indiana, Ohio back to what he charmingly refers to ‘as a little circle around New York’ which will take in cities from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Cleveland to Chicago and many many more. The full itinerary is outlined at the end of the article with website details. 

I finish with one of my favorite topics, the issue of being Irish in America, Again Emmet has an interesting insight: “In Ireland you are just yourself, you don’t think about it. Americans are more invested in the idea of being Irish and all that that entails”, he says. This is fascinating as Emmet already has a huge fan base here in the US who have no Irish connections but when they hear him sing, it resonates with something deep within. If being Irish is connected with listening to this amazing tenor Emmet Cahill, I strongly recommend everyone should become Irish at least for one night. Book your tickets for a memorable night, enjoy the show and I will keep you updated on the album which will be out later in the year! For New York fans, see you all in Rory Dolans on June 6th. 

Tour Dates: http://www.emmetcahill.com/tour-dates/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Emmetcahill?lang=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Emmet-Cahill-Official-Music/158928754151170?ref=hl

Catherine Burns is going home

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

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Duffy’s Cut team leaders Rev. Frank Watson, Earl Schandlemeir, and Dr. William Watson at the Duffy’s Cut cross at West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

By Ray O’Hanlon
rohanlon@irishecho.com

More than 180 years after she died beside a Pennsylvania railroad, Catherine Burns is going home.

Fragments of her remains unearthed at the Duffy’s Cut excavation site in Malvern, Chester County, PA will be interred in her native County Tyrone in July.

“We got a confirmation that we will be able to bury bones of one of the Duffy’s Cut victims, 29-year-old Tyrone native Catherine Burns,” Dr. William Watson of Immaculata University, a leader of the excavation work at the Duffy’s Cut site since 2003, said.

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 Watson.

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.

“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.”

Watson added that a marker would 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 site. This work is expected to begin in early June.

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 as Duffy’s Cut.

Dr. Watson and his colleagues believe that the deaths were caused not just by cholera, the reason reported at the time, but by murderous attacks carried out by local nativist gangs.

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

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