The Federal Building in Lower Manhattan
By Ray O’Hanlon
The Irish were in the thick of the fight for American independence.
Lately, they seem to be absent from the ranks of new Americans.
This would certainly appear to be the case in the specific – though not necessarily definitive – context of two swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens held in New York in the run-up to the July 4th holiday.
The first ceremony, held on June 19th and conducted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was held, according to a release, “in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month.”
150 new Americans from 42 countries were sworn in at the gathering in the Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan.
Ireland was not among the 42.
In a second ceremony conducted Tuesday of this week at Brooklyn’s historic Old Stone House, 20 new citizens from 17 countries participated.
Again, Ireland was absent from the list of nations in a ceremony which, according to a release, was part of “USCIS’ annual Independence Day celebration.”
The two New York ceremonies were but a fraction of more than fifty naturalization ceremonies being held across the country from July 1 through July 4.
But given that they were in New York, the Irish absence – in what is the fiftieth anniversary year since passage of the 1965 immigration reform act – appeared all the more glaring.
Many Irish immigration advocates see the ’65 act as a closing of the door to large scale legal Irish immigration to the United States.
Dr. Lori Gallagher (third from right) and some of her students.
By Evan Short
A Texas-based academic who visits Belfast every two years as part of the course she teaches says she feels like the current Stormont impasse shows that society is moving on.
Dr. Lori Gallagher, who runs the William J Flynn Center for Irish Studies at the University of St Thomas in Houston, told the Irish Echo that because the parties were dealing with “bread and butter issues” it marked a development when so much of the past dealt with conflict related issues.
The last time Dr. Gallagher visited the North was in 2013 when flag protests gripped Belfast, but this year the crisis is about the implementation of budgetary and fiscal policy.
Gallagher said the peace process was a key part of the curriculum at the university alongside the wider cultural study of Ireland.
She had traveled to Ireland to visit a number of organizations working to bring Catholics and Protestants together.
“Because peace and reconciliation are a cornerstone of our Irish Studies program, we were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Rev. Bill Shaw again this year and learn from him as a peacemaker within the community of North Belfast, as well as the wider community,” she said.
Conor Maskey from Intercomm, an organisation which works with former prisoners who help to maintain the peace, said he had met the Texas students to explain how work on the ground was developing a shared future.
“I spoke to them about the dynamics of the peace process and what I tried to get across was that, okay, Stormont is in crisis and while the arguments have a number of constitutional political issues related to them, it is really boiling down to how you treat the poorest in society.
“For years we had people crying out for Stormont to get down to bread and butter issues and that is what we have.
“The political institutions are in danger, but it’s over a political argument,” Maskey said.
Martina and Larry Hayes. Family photo.
By Irish Echo Staff
Ireland this week is again reeling in shock after the sudden and tragic deaths of citizens overseas.
This time, however, it was not accidental death, as in the case of the California balcony collapse tragedy, but rather as a result of cold-blooded terrorism that left three Irish among the dead in the ISIS-inspired Tunisia beach massacre.
Martina Hayes, a mother of one and her husband Larry, from Athlone, County Westmeath, along with mother of two, Lorna Carty, were among the 38 killed in the weekend attack.
Billy Kelly, brother of Martina Hayes, told the Pat Kenny radio show that the family were devastated by the loss.
“These people, they shot my sister and her husband in cold blood,” a distraught Mr. Kelly said.
“Larry was an inspector with Bus Éireann, and my sister Martina was a housewife, a very proud housewife, and they were just a loving family who were finishing out their holiday when they were gunned down,” Mr. Kelly said.
The couple had been married for more than 30 years.
In the grim aftermath of the slaughter, after which the gunman was killed by Tunisian security forces, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan, issued a statement in which he said the process of full and formal identification of victims was continuing in Tunis and would take a period of time before it was completed.
Irish diplomats in Tunisia were working closely with the Tunisian authorities, he said.
Said Mr. Flanagan in his statement: “Contact has been made with family members of those citizens for whom there is grave concern. The embassy team is also continuing to provide all possible consular support to the bereaved family of the Irish citizen who had been confirmed yesterday as being among the deceased.
“This is a tragic and difficult time for the families and loved ones of those concerned. I appeal for their privacy to be respected and for sensitivity to be observed in the reporting of this tragic event.
“As of now, the Irish Embassy team is not aware of any other cases of potential concern in relation to Irish citizens. We will continue to actively monitor the situation pending full identification of all those who have died and who have been injured.
“My department’s travel advice for Tunisia, which was changed yesterday in the light of the attack, is to exercise extreme caution. While the Tunisian authorities have declared this incident to be over, we would urge Irish citizens in Tunisia to remain vigilant and to follow any instructions given by the police, tour operator, and hotel staff.
“I have condemned in the strongest terms these terrorist attacks,” said Mr. Flanagan. who also condemned the weekend attacks in France and Kuwait.
“I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families of all the deceased.
“The Ambassador of Ireland accredited to Tunisia, David Cooney, also met EU counterparts in Tunis today to review the situation on the ground. The embassy team will keep me and the government updated through the days ahead.”
President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina signing the book of condolences at the Mansion House in Dublin
By Ray O’Hanlon
As families of those who died and who were injured in the Berkeley balcony collapse began arriving in San Francisco, tributes were being paid to the dead and injured on both sides of the Atlantic.
At the same time, a torrent of criticism has been directed at the New York Times for a report that appeared to relate the balcony collapse to incidents in the past involving Irish J-1 students.
The report prompted critical comment from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and letters to the editor from both former Irish President Mary McAleese, and Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson.
Two critical letters, though not from McAleese or Anderson, were carried by the Times letters page today, Thursday.
Meanwhile, the all too short lives of the six dead students have been the focus of most reporting in the past couple of days, including a report today in the New York Times.
Five of the students were from the South County Dublin area and were students at University College Dublin, the Dublin Institute of Technology, and the Dun Laoghaire Institute or Art, Design and Technology.
When in high school the five had attended St. Mary’s College in Rathmines, St. Andrew’s College in Booterstown and Loreto Convent in Foxrock, all in south Dublin.
Those who died were: Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe and Lorcan Miller (21).
The J-1 students were from the South County Dublin area and were celebrating a 21st birthday when the tragedy occurred.
Ashley Donohoe was Irish American. She was from Santa Rosa in the Bay Area, was studying at Sonoma State University and was a cousin of Olivia Burke.
The sense of shock at the ending of such young and purposeful lives has been deeply felt in both the U.S. and Ireland.
In Dublin, the Dáil went into recess and a book of condolences was opened in the Mansion House.
In California, State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said that she will ask the California Senate to adjourn in memory of the students.
Senator Hancock, whose husband, Tom Bates, is the Mayor of Berkeley, said she would present her request on the Senate floor at the conclusion of the regular session today.
Senator Hancock, according to a release from her office, will ask her fellow senators to join her in memorializing the dead students. She will then read out their names.
“Our hearts go out to their families as well as to the other young people who were seriously injured in the accident. We pray for their recovery,” Senator Hancock will state in her adjournment request.
And she will continue: “This tragedy touches every family in Ireland and the horror of it is being felt deeply across that entire country today. There is a very specific reason for that: Every Irish family is touched by this horrific incident because these young people were following in a long-running tradition that brings thousands of young Irish people to California every year.
“They take a break from college to come here on temporary visas offered by the U.S. government to participate in the federal Work Travel program, which allows students to live and work in this country for up to four months. In the Bay area, they land summer jobs on Fisherman’s Wharf and in department stores, restaurants and coffee shops throughout the region. They work with and interact with Americans day in and day out.
“They come to experience American life, learn about American culture and then return to their studies and their country with a better understanding of what America is. They – in effect – become some of the best Ambassadors for this country, which is why so many follow in their footsteps. They return full of hope and idealism and positive feeling about America, which they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“As some of you know, I have been involved with Ireland for several years and have travelled there to meet with Irish political and cultural leaders, peace activists and community bridge-builders on both sides of the Irish border. I was always struck by the openness and warmth of the people and their willingness to extend an open hand to those in need and across religious and political boundaries. Today, we need to extend a loving embrace back to the families of these young people.
“Berkeley and Ireland have been linked from birth as the city takes its name from Ireland’s Bishop George Berkeley. It pains me that we will now be forever united in an even more profound way as a result of this tragedy: united in sadness and anguish for the loss of these young lives. But let us ensure, in our embrace of their heartbroken families and their grieving nation, that Ireland’s bond with Berkeley and indeed with California will remain a source of solidarity and solace.
“I ask the Senate to adjourn in memory of these wonderful young people and their families, and for the people of Ireland.”
Meanwhile, as family members arrive so too will Irish Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan.
Speaking before his departure from Dublin, Minister Deenihan said: “The tragic loss of six young lives at the beginning of a summer in California which should have been filled with new experiences, new opportunities and new friends, is simply heart breaking.
“At this profoundly difficult time, on behalf of the Government, I want to stand with our young J1 community in Berkeley and express solidarity with the families of the bereaved, the injured and all those affected by this terrible tragedy.
“When I meet with representatives of the Irish community in Berkeley, local residents and the local U.S. authorities, I will take the opportunity to express deep appreciation, on behalf of the government and the people of Ireland, for the generous support and assistance they have offered to those affected by this devastating accident. Their cooperation with the dedicated team at our consulate is enormously important in helping us to deliver practical support to those affected.”
Even as families gather to mourn the dead and comfort the seven students serious injured in the balcony collapse early Tuesday morning, reports continue to focus on the balcony itself was attached to the apartment building by wooden joists which, multiple reports have indicated, were compromised by dry rot.
Reported the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday morning: “The investigation into the cause of the Berkeley apartment balcony collapse that killed six people and injured seven focused Wednesday on the company that constructed the building — a firm that has paid more than $6 million in the past two years to settle lawsuits claiming its work caused balconies to rot prematurely and fail.
“Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said there was ‘high probability’ that water had penetrated and rotted the wooden underpinnings of the balcony that broke away early Tuesday. Officials ordered a second balcony removed from the same building Wednesday because it was ‘structurally unsafe,’ and Bates said its problems were similar to those suspected in the collapse.
“Court documents show that Segue Construction Inc., the Pleasanton company that built the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St., site of Tuesday’s tragedy, has paid $6.5 million since 2013 to settle a pair of lawsuits alleging problems like those apparently at the center of the Berkeley probe.”
The revelations regarding the structural state of the balcony have served to lessen the emphasis on the actual number of students who were standing on it when it gave way.
Initial reports pointed to between 12 and 14 with 13 being thrown onto the street below when the balcony flipped over as it fell.
Subsequent accounts point to a different scenario in which there were fewer standing on the balcony as it began break from the building but with others inside the apartment lunging forward onto the balcony in an effort to save those standing on it.
A clearer picture will emerge as the investigation into the tragedy gathers testimony from survivors and eye witnesses.
The New York Times report that has been strongly criticized focused not only on the tragedy, but on an incident last year in which a number of Irish students were involved in a raucous party that resulted in damage to an apartment.
The reference in the Times story, while accurate, angered many for its timing and in the context it was presented.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, according to an Irish Times report, expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the tone of the article.
Asked to comment on a letter written by former president Mary McAleese to the Times criticizing the article, Mr. Kenny said he fully supported her sentiments.
Mr. Kenny said he was surprised that “such an eminent newspaper” would write such a story in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
“This is a tragic incident and I was very surprised and disappointed to see the tone of the article written by the New York Times, surprised at them,” Mr. Kenny said after a meeting in Downing Street with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mr. Cameron, according to the Irish Times, prefaced his remarks by expressing sympathy to relatives and friends of those who had died or had been injured in the accident.
Former president Mary McAleese, in her criticism of the Times, said the journalists who wrote the article on the Berkeley balcony collapse demonstrated a “sociopathic dissociation” from the suffering of family members of the dead and injured.
She said the Times “should be hanging its head in shame” following a report which had termed the J-1 visa exchange program as an “embarrassment to Ireland”.
“It’s so insensitive that I would say it is almost dissociated from any sense of human empathy or human feeling, or a sense of human grief,” she told RTÉ Radio today.
“In this moment of intense grief, these journalists – and it was a team of journalists – they cut and paste these most awful stories which represented the most-minute minority,” she said of references to troublesome parties involving J-1 visa holders which were included in the article.
A J-1 visitor to San Francisco herself in 1971, McAleese described the offending segment of the Times report as “journalism at the absolute worst end of the spectrum; it’s indescribably poorly-constructed in every way.”
She said it would have been more appropriate for the journalists to focus on the structural integrity of the balcony.
New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, said that while the piece in question was “insensitive, it would most likely not be removed from the Times website.
The six who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse
By Ray O’Hanlon
Questions were being raised today over the structural integrity of the apartment balcony in Berkeley, California, that collapsed early Tuesday morning and resulted in the deaths of six students, and serious injuries to seven others.
And the names of five Irish J-1 students and one Irish American, a cousin of one of the Irish visitors, have been released.
The dead are: Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe and Lorcan Miller (21).
The J-1 students were from the South County Dublin area and were celebrating a 21st birthday when the tragedy occurred.
Ashley Donohoe was the Irish American victim. She was from Santa Rosa in the Bay Area and a cousin of Olivia Burke.
Four died at the scene and two others were pronounced dead at in hospital, said police.
Some of the survivors are battling life-threatening injuries.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday that the small balconies at the Library Gardens apartment complex where the collapse occurred “were designed more as decoration than a sturdy platform to entertain large groups of friends, according to a member of the Berkeley Design Review Committee that approved the project in 2001.”
The Chronicle report stated: “The 176-unit, five-story stucco Library Gardens apartment complex on Kittredge Street in downtown Berkeley came under heavy scrutiny Tuesday morning after six young people, five of them thought to be visiting from Ireland on J-1 student-work visas, fell to their deaths when a fourth-floor balcony collapsed.
“Joshua Kardon, a structural engineer in Berkeley, said that while balconies have collapsed in the past, the accident on Kittredge Street was ‘very disturbing’ because it occurred at a newer building.
“The investigation, he said, will likely look not only at the condition of the wood framing and its ‘failure mechanism,’ but at how the balcony was designed and built — particularly how water would be kept from rotting the wood — and what was found during inspections.”
The tragedy has shocked Ireland where there has been an outpouring of sympathy from political, religious and community leaders.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny read a statement in the Dáil and flags are being flown at half-mast.
Mr. Kenny said his “heart breaks” for the victims and their families.
In an updated statement, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, said his department and the Irish Consulate in San Francisco continued to provide practical support and assistance to the bereaved, the injured, and the students affected by the tragedy.
“Family members of the deceased and injured are travelling to San Francisco today (Wednesday) where they will be met on arrival by a team from our Consulate in San Francisco. A consular team from my department provided support to them at Dublin Airport before they travelled,” said Flanagan.
And he continued: “Our Consulate in San Francisco is working with the local authorities and Irish community organizations to provide transport and accommodation to those who need it. I would like to thank the Irish community in San Francisco, local residents and the local authorities, all of whom have generously offered assistance and support to those affected by this devastating accident.
“We are also conscious that many Irish students were not physically injured, but were left deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of friends and classmates in this terrible accident. The Consulate has worked with local authorities in Berkeley to set up an incident center in Berkeley, where grief counsellors will be on site and people will also have facilities to make phone calls home.
“I would encourage any families who have concerns about any loved ones in San Francisco and who may require these services to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Consular Response Team on +353-1-418-0200.
“Two officers from embassy in Washington have arrived in San Francisco to provide further support to the Consulate team today, while our consulates in New York and Boston are on standby to assist families travelling via those cities.
“To date, the Department’s Consular Emergency Response Centre has handled over 500 calls from concerned family members and friends and we remain ready to respond.”
A report in the Irish Examiner said that two Irish students asleep in the building had said they were awakened by a loud bang.
Mark Neville, who has been in the U.S. with a J-1 visa, said: “I walked out and I saw rubble on the street and a bunch of Irish students crying.”
“I just heard a bang and a lot of shouting,” said Dan Sullivan.
Meanwhile, Berkeley Mayor, Tom Bates, has laid a wreath outside the apartment building.
He did so Tuesday together with Irish Consul General in San Francisco, Philip Grant. A bagpiper played a lament and an Irish tricolor was laid over the wreath.
Mayor Bates has visited Ireland in the past while his wife, Loni Hancock, is a member of the California State Senate.
Senator Hancock is expected to propose the adjournment of the State Senate on Thursday as a mark of condolence for the bereaved families and the Irish people.
Mayor Bates has also expressed his deep sorrow.
“Our hearts go out to the Irish people, and particularly the parents. We’re going to make sure this never happens again,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, has given assurances to the families of the injured that they will not have to worry about medical bills.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, and as reported in the Irish Times, Mr. O’Malley said: “I don’t think any of the physicians or nurses or staff will be concerned about their insurance coverage. They will get the very best care that is available, and that is what is important for today.
“The important thing that I take away from this is that this tragedy occurred in a place where some of the best hospitals in the United States happen to operate. Those students need the very best care they can get in the United States, and they are in the best place where it can be delivered to them.”
Given the extent of the injuries suffered by the survivors, medical costs are certain to astronomical.
Ambassador O’Malley said that about 7,000 J-1 visas were issued to Irish students this year, a figure which is typical.
“It is a very significant part of how we have come to understand each other so well and that we have such a warm, deep relationship,” O’Malley said of the J-1 program.
The fourth floor balcony collapsed onto the balcony below and those on it were thrown into the street.
By Ray O’Hanlon
What was to be a night of joy and celebration turned into a nightmare for a group of Irish J-1 students when a balcony in a Berkeley, California apartment complex gave way, pitching it occupants into the street below.
At the time of writing the death toll is six, believed to be all Irish students working in the Bay Area for the summer.
A number of others, and perhaps as many as seven, are reportedly being treated for serious injuries. Some of them are critical.
No identities of the dead and injured were available at the time of writing.
The tragedy occurred shortly after midnight, Pacific Time, Tuesday.
The students had gathered in the apartment to celebrate a 21st birthday.
Reports estimated the number of students on the balcony at the time of the collapse at between 12 and 14.
There was a report, carried by the Irish Independent in Dublin, that the apartment lacked air conditioning, though this remains to be confirmed.
The apartment was close to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.
Police and emergency workers came upon a horrific scene at the four-story Library Gardens apartment complex 2020 Kittredge St. west of Shattuck Avenue, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The report continued: “Four people died at the scene. At 5:45 a.m. their bodies remained outside the building while authorities awaited the arrival of the medical examiner. The fifth victim died at a hospital, police said.
“The building was constructed within the past few years, said Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police Department spokesman. The reason for the collapse was not known. Police were in contact with the building’s owner, White said.
“Double French doors led from the building to the balcony. Shredded wood and insulation was visible where the balcony had been attached. The structure itself landed on the third-floor balcony below,” the Chronicle report added.
As news of the collapse spread, the Irish government alerted the Irish Consulate in San Francisco, which is now providing assistance to victims and the families whose members were caught up in the tragedy.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, released a statement.
He said: “It is with great sadness that I confirm that a number of young Irish citizens have lost their lives while a number of others have been seriously injured following the collapse of a balcony in Berkeley, California earlier today.
“My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of the deceased and those who have been injured in this appalling incident. My department in Dublin stands ready to provide all possible consular assistance to the Irish citizens affected by this tragedy.
“Our Consul General in San Francisco is in close contact with the authorities and will be providing assistance to those affected on the ground.
“It is too early to know the full extent of this dreadful accident but I have opened my department’s consular crisis center and activated our emergency response line so we can provide assistance and guidance to the families of those affected and to others who have concerns. Anyone with concerns about friends or family in the region should call the emergency consular response team on +353 1 418 0200.”
Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Diaspora Affairs, also offered issued a statement.
“The loss of life in such tragic circumstances is an enormous blow to the families involved and to the country. Our thoughts are with these families and with those who have been injured,” Deenihan said.
The U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, also released a statement.
“I would like to offer my heartfelt sympathy and condolence to the families, loved one, and friends of the Irish student who lost their live this morning in Berkeley, California.
“All of us at the United States Embassy are greatly saddened by the news of this tragedy and are ready to do whatever we can to assist the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs at this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, and friends at this difficult time,” O’Malley said.
In New York, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center also expressed shock and sympathy.
The EIIC said in part in its statement, which was directed at J-1 students: “The Emerald Isle Immigration Center wishes to express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of all the victims of the tragic accident in Berkeley, California. We understand that some of you may be affected by this. If you feel you need to speak to someone, please contact the EIIC at (718)478-5502, Olive Lyons, Ext. 203, or Caitriona Howley, EXT. 220.”
The invitation illustration for Tuesday’s celebration of WB Yeats and James Joyce at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. The image was the winning entry in a competition organized by the Irish Embassy, and is the work of Barrie Maguire.
By Ray O’Hanlon
The cultural world is this week saluting William and James.
And though the celebration is centered in Ireland, it has nothing to do with the protagonists at the Battle of the Boyne.
Rather, the William and James on the minds of so many around the globe are William Butler Yeats and James Joyce.
The 150th anniversary of the birth of the former has been observed in recent days while Tuesday will see Bloomsday celebrations in many countries in honor of James Joyce.
Much of the celebrating, as it always is, will be in the United States.
And this year, in addition to the many gatherings and events in cities such as New York, there will be an especially significant celebration of both Yeats and Joyce in the nation’s capital.
On Bloomsday, Tuesday June 16, there will be a lunchtime open air public concert at Dupont Circle, from 12.30 to 1.30 p.m., featuring music and readings from the works of Joyce and Yeats.
The event is being organized by the Irish Embassy.
“We are encouraging people to join us for a lunchtime picnic as we recreate a typical Bloomsday event. There will even be bike riders in Edwardian dress,” said an embassy statement.
The readings at Dupont Circle will be by Gregory Baker, Assistant Professor of English, Director of Irish Studies Catholic University of America; Christopher Griffin, Professor of English, George Washington University; Coilin Owens, Professor Emeritus, English Department, George Mason University, and Fionnuala Quinn, organizer of the annual Washington D.C. Bloomsday Bike Rally.
Music is being provided by John Feeley, Ireland’s leading classical guitarist, and Fran O’Rourke, a singer and professor of philosophy at University College Dublin, who will perform a selection of music related to Joyce and Yeats.
Both are also performing at an evening event at the Cosmos Club being hosted by Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S., Anne Anderson.
Congressman Richard Neal, Senator Ed Markey and Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, will read two Yeats poems each.
Terry Cross-Davis of the Folger Shakespeare Library will do a reading from “Ulysses.”
In addition, a short play involving an encounter between Yeats and Joyce has been written for the evening event by Joe Hassettt, an attorney and Yeats scholar.
Thoor Ballylee, the Gort, County Galway 16th-century Hiberno-Norman tower house, once owned by Yeats, will reopen this summer following a donation of €30,000 from Mr. Hassett.
BALLYLEE PHOTOS BY DEIRDRE HOLMES
By Peter McDermott
A generous check from an American lawyer has boosted the cause of W.B. Yeats’s County Galway home ahead of today’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
But supporters locally and in the U.S. believe this is just one step in making the former summer retreat, the tower at Ballylee, into what they call a “world-class Yeats cultural center.”
Joseph Hassett, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the author of “W.B. Yeats and the Muses,” gave €31,000 to the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society. The Buffalo, N.Y.-born, Washington-based Hassett first visited the Yeats Summer School in 1963 and subsequently obtained a PhD from University College Dublin.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, chairperson of the society, reported that his gift has been quickly followed by a successful fundraising auction and a second welcome check from another Yeats expert.
The senator recently gave an awestruck Dublin-based academic a tour of the property at Ballylee. “She told me ‘I can’t believe I’m on the winding stair,’ Healy Eames recalled.
The woman — who was referring to the tower feature that gave its name to Yeats’s 1929 collection of poetry — last week sent the society a check for €5,000.
The society leased the property from Fáilte Ireland, which had repaired 2009 flood damage. Prior to that, from 1965, Thoor Ballylee had housed a Yeats museum.
The new project has enlisted some high-profile supporters. One of them, Minister for State for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan, believes that the building near Gort could serve both as an attraction for the general visitor and as a major center for Yeats studies.
“It has extraordinary untapped potential,” he told the Echo on Thursday.
“The bulk of the money will come from Ireland and that’s only right,” Deenihan said. “But people in the United States will want to have the opportunity to be associated with it.”
To that end, he said, Janet Moran-Hamill in New York and Chicago activist Billy Lawless, a Galway native, are organizing fundraisers in coming months.
Two years ago, Deenihan suggested that his then Fine Gael party colleague Healy Eames lead the local effort.
“Politicians don’t usually get involved in committees not in their own constituency,” said Healy Eames, who now sits as an independent in the Seanad. “But this is a labor of love.”
The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society has put a price tag of €1 million on its dream of a cultural center, but the immediate aim is to have the doors open to the public from 11 a.m. through 6 p.m. each day, at least until September.
Meanwhile, said Senator Healy Eames, the society was due to celebrate the “big occasion” of the 150th today with a party at Thoor Ballylee.
A first home
“He had long been struck by the stark beauty of a medieval tower-house or castle keep buried in a little river-valley near Coole, and had written about it in ‘The Celtic Twilight,’” says R.F. Foster in his second volume of “W.B. Yeats: A Life.”
During the First World War, an opportunity came up to buy it from the Congested Districts Board. It wasn’t a seller’s market during the war, but nor was it a good time for Yeats to buy, because of his relatively straitened circumstances and also his worries about his father’s finances in New York.
Yeats, who had reached 50, had never bought a home before and confessed that Ballylee was the cause of many a sleepless night.
“Lady Gregory helped him with it, I believe,” said Andy McGowan of the Yeats Society of New York.
Long a regular at Gregory’s place at nearby Coole, the poet had no intention of ever staying at the tower alone.
“Ballylee is a good home for a child to grow up in – a place full of history & romance with plenty to do everyday,” he wrote.
He married Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917; he was 52, she 25. They had two children, Anne, born in 1919, and Michael, who arrived in 1921. The marriage was a successful one and endured until his death in 1939, but the tower had been abandoned 10 years earlier as he began to spend more time abroad.
Still, it has close associations with his family life through the 1920s and his time in public life. He was appointed to the new Senate in December 1922, and shortly afterwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he saw as honoring Ireland’s entry into the community of nations.
Yeats and his wife poured their energies and finances into the property they rechristened Thoor Ballylee.
Foster said that it was likely built in the 1500s but with roots back to the 1300s, which Yeats preferred to stress because of the obvious Norman connections.
By early 1922, a bedroom was ready, as was the 3rd-floor study for the poet, though the children and servants slept in the old cottages beside the tower.
Floods were always a threat, and furniture and curtains were removed in the wintertime. Says Foster: “The permanent damp seeping through limestone wall also forbade pictures, prints, or photographs of any kind.”
Oil-lamps and storm-lanterns were used, while river-water was heated in a large copper.
“It was all extremely simple, not to say uncomfortably austere,” the biographer adds.
Today, the property is of interest, said Minister of State Deenihan, because it is “associated with major works by the greatest English-language poet of the 20th century.”
“The Winding Stair” was preceded in 1928 by “The Tower,” which Deenihan said was mostly completed during his time at Ballylee.
That volume contains, for example, “Sailing to Byzantium,” “Among School Children” and “Meditations in a Time of Civil War,” which refers to a conflict that had threatened to engulf both Thoor Ballylee and Coole.
Healy Eames, whose PhD thesis on creative writing dealt with the impact a place has on literary work, said: “I can see how Thoor Ballylee was an inspiration.”
Once, at the end of a very tough political day, the senator drove the 30 minutes from her home at Oranmore, Co. Galway, to Ballylee. After a few minutes there, Healy Eames said, “my mood was transformed.”
Tax deductible donations can be made, through the Ireland Funds, at yeatsthoorballylee.org/donate. In New York, Janet Moran-Hamill can be contacted at 718-374-1611 or email@example.com.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Either the world and its mother is pursuing the Republican Party nomination for next year’s presidential election, or “the mother” part of that total is the only one taking a pass.
But it’s a mother who gives former New York governor George Pataki an entry card to Irish America as he works to gather support for his own, lately unveiled, presidential ambition.
The GOP field is crowded, and will soon be more crowded still.
Pataki’s recently launched candidacy has yet to attract top ten status, the required entry card to a planned pre-primaries GOP candidate debate on Fox television.
But in his home state, Pataki is gaining traction.
The three-term governor heads the Republican field in the Empire State along with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, this according to a recently released opinion poll from Quinnipiac University.
Pataki and Rubio are tied at 11 percent each. Jeb Bush is at ten percent.
Polls this early are not always reliable and much in the race could change, reported the New York Observer.
But Pataki, who is at the back of the pack nationally, could gain traction and win his old state outright, the weekly surmised.
And he might do well in New Hampshire too.
Pataki has been focusing on the Granite State in the early stages of his bid and there enjoys a key advantage over the Republican pack: he, at least, is a north easterner.
He is also Irish American in addition to his Hungarian heritage.
Pataki was born in 1945, a hundred years after the outbreak of the Great Hunger in Ireland.
Fifty years after his birth, as Irish America steeled itself to mark an especially solemn anniversary, Pataki was governor of New York, a state that had been a crucial refuge for the Famine Irish.
So when it came to marking the 150th anniversary it didn’t matter a whit that Pataki’s name was indeed Hungarian. He had Irish on his mother Margaret’s side.
And besides, the man born on the banks of the Hudson seemed ready, and more than able, to grasp the significance of an event that was bitterly remembered by some, but sidelined and largely ignored by mainstream America.
More than that, it turned out he was ready to call people to account for it.
George Pataki’s rise to prominence in the Republican Party had a lot to do with his habit of bucking tradition and challenging the accepted ways of doing things.
This wrapped Pataki in an aura of freshness in the eyes of voters who gave him the nod to replace Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo in the 1994 gubernatorial election. Voters would do so again in two subsequent elections.
For Irish Americans loyal to both parties, the arrival of Pataki brought with it a moment of uncertainty.
When it came to Ireland, Irish American Democrats and Republicans in New York tended to aim for common ground. Cuomo had drawn plaudits from both camps for his Irish positions, not least his support of the MacBride Principles campaign.
Cuomo’s predecessor had been Hugh Carey, one of the “Four Horsemen.”
In the wake of both these men, Pataki, who didn’t hail from a New York City borough, but from Peekskill in Westchester County, was a largely unknown quantity on Ireland and Irish issues.
This state of affairs wouldn’t last for long.
Albany can be a murky place when it comes to politics and odd things can happen.
In 1995, someone in the capital’s bureaucracy inserted an obscure provision into Pataki’s first budget that, if implemented, would have terminated the state’s MacBride Principles compliance law.
But, unlike the recent turn of events in Florida, the rescinding provision was spotted and Pataki, who had voted for the MacBride bill as a state legislator, struck it from the budget.
Support for the fair employment guidelines might have been the high point of Pataki’s Irish policy but the freshman governor was now on a collision course with the British government, not over jobs in Northern Ireland, but over an historical wrong about to be writ large once again.
For years, Irish-American educators and activists had been urging inclusion of the Famine as a social studies subject in New York’s public schools curriculum.
The 150th anniversary placed the issue front and center and when legislation was drawn up in Albany, Pataki, in the fall of 1996, had no problem signing the legislation into law.
He did not content himself with a moniker, however.
At the signing ceremony, Pataki accused British authorities during the Famine years of carrying out a “deliberate campaign” aimed at denying the starving Irish the food they needed to survive.
Pataki’s words prompted a furious letter from then British ambassador to the United States, John Kerr.
The ambassador’s broadside, and the governor’s response, turned into arguably the biggest dustup between New Yorkers and the British since the Battle of Saratoga.
Kerr lambasted the governor, stating that it appeared Pataki was equating the Great Hunger with the Holocaust, confusing a natural disaster with a man-made one.
The Daily News soon got into the middle of things, accusing Kerr of being pompous.
Pataki held his fire for a time; indeed, three months were to pass before he delivered a response.
Pataki stood his ground. He had not equated the Great Famine with the Holocaust, he wrote Kerr. It was merely the case that the two would sit side by side along with slavery and genocide as human rights subjects for New York public school students.
Pataki wrote that the lofty perspective Kerr had assumed in his letter had been entirely indefensible.
Pataki again focused on the “gross inadequacy” of British relief efforts and argued that the suffering and death in Ireland were in part the result of “all too prevalent British beliefs in the inferiority of the Irish.”
In outlining his view, Pataki worded his case like the lawyer he was, drawing on statements from the Famine period by British officials as evidence to back up his position.
“But although we are not obliged to take offense on behalf of our great-grandparents, we are obliged to learn from history,” Pataki wrote.
“I want the truth above all to be taught. If it is, children in New York schools will learn that the Great Irish Hunger was no mere natural disaster.”
Just over four months later, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a letter of his own.
British politicians during the Famine years, he acknowledged, had stood by while a defining event in the history of Ireland and Britain had turned into a massive tragedy.
Blair’s letter, read out to a Famine commemoration in County Cork, was seen in Albany as a vindication of Pataki’s determined stance.
“Blair obviously is cut from better cloth than Kerr and his ilk,” the Daily News sniffed in an editorial.
A couple of years later, Pataki would walk through Irish fields that had once known only the scent of death.
And from that visit, according to Jack Irwin, Pataki’s liaison to the Irish American community during his gubernatorial years, would spring the Great Hunger Memorial in Lower Manhattan, opened by Pataki and President Mary McAleese in July 2002.
The memorial is a replica of a West of Ireland field, specifically one in County Mayo.
George Pataki seems to have a thing for fields, and pastures new. He lives in Garrison, in bucolic Putnam County.
And right now he’s checking out the fields, (and the GOP field) in New Hampshire, working on a presidential run in a year that brings with it another standout Irish anniversary.
Ambassador Anne Anderson
By Ray O’Hanlon
Ireland’s ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson, is not at her post in Washington, D.C. today.
The popular plenipotentiary is back in Ireland where she is being honored, along with 24 other women, at an event highlighting Ireland’s “most powerful women.”
The gathering, including a “Leadership Summit” and a “Top 25 Awards” and hosted by the Women’s Executive Network, was attended by 700 people.
It was staged at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin.
Ambassador Anderson was one of the main speakers at the awards ceremony, others being Philomena Lee, whose life story was made famous in the movie “Philomena,” Microsoft’s Managing Director in Ireland, Cathriona Hallahan, and Enterprise Ireland chief, Julie Sinnamon.
Other speakers included Ulster Bank Northern Ireland chief, Ellvena Graham, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, Vodafone Ireland’s Anne O’Leary, Paypal’s Louise Phelan, Glanbia’s Siobhan Talbot, Keeling’s Caroline Keeling, Bank of Ireland’s Julie Sharp, Tesco’s Christine Heffernan, Judge Fidelma Macken, Suzanne McAuley producer of the acclaimed RTE crime drama “Love Hate,” youth campaigner Joanne O’Riordan, and vocal legend Veronica Cross.
The Women’s Executive Network event included both a leadership summit and an awards gala to celebrate the winners, and also to allow attendees to learn from the experience and knowledge of these successful women, said a release.
Two hundred attended the Leadership Summit, which delivered advice on negotiation skills, how to perform under pressure, and international leadership trends.
Five hundred attended the Gala Awards where Philomena Lee and Cathriona Hallahan gave keynote addresses.
A primary topic for consideration at the summit was the gender pay gap.
The gap in Ireland is currently 14.4 percent – and getting worse according to European Union statistics.
The statistics also show that women with children tend to fare worse in the pay scale against male counterparts,” said Pamela Jeffery, founder of Women’s Executive Network.
“Women need to be facilitated in their career progression and confident in their own value in the system. This is why we identify, promote and celebrate successful and influential women in Ireland,” Jeffery said.
The 25 award winners received their prizes in varying categories: for corporate executives, entrepreneurs, public sector leaders – the category in which Ambassador Anderson was recognized – trailblazers, the category under which Philomena Lee was honored, arts and culture, and a category headed “Hall of Fame.”