June July 2007 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Peace at last in Northern Ireland? https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/peace-at-last-in-northern-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/peace-at-last-in-northern-ireland/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 12:00:57 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10699 Read more..]]> Though political tensions linger, the Northern Ireland Assembly is up and running and both communities are working together for the future.

The Reverend Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, sat down together before the world’s media on March 26 to announce that they would form a power-sharing executive at Stormont.

The fact that a deal had been reached was amazing enough, but it was the manner of its announcement that left all who witnessed it open-mouthed with astonishment. Adams and Paisley were smiling, and they were speaking not just to their own people, but to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole. The tone was entirely new. It was, in a word, respectful.

It is only a year since Paisley, the First Minister, said, “Sinn Féin/ IRA will be in government over our dead bodies.” Only a year since Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, complained that if the DUP was serious about the preparation for government committee, “Why did they send the Taliban?” He was referring to, among others, Ian Paisley Jr., now Junior Minister at the office of the First and Deputy First Ministers.

And yet the deal was done, and done well. At the Stormont press conference, Paisley and Adams each acknowledged the terrible past in a generous and accommodating way. “We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future,” said Paisley. Adams mirrored these sentiments. “The relationships between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of discord, conflict, hurt and tragedy,” he said. “The discussions and agreement between our two parties shows the potential of what can now be achieved.”

The Stormont announcement, and the series of highly symbolic meetings and statements which flowed from it, were played out while Northern Ireland basked in sunshine such as we rarely get even in high summer. The mood was good, but there was little of the euphoria that followed the signing of the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998.

“I sense a quiet optimism,” said Father Andy Dolan, the parish priest for Bellaghy in south Co. Derry, a place that had more than its share of turmoil. “There is an element of wait and see. We have been disappointed so often in the past, we don’t want to get too excited.  There are people in this parish who were bombers and gunmen and spent years in jail. By now they are businessmen, pillars of society.  They don’t want their grandchildren having the life they led. They’ve got used to normality. They hope this government can hold together.”

Glenn Patterson, novelist and author of an autobiographical book called Lapsed Protestant, said he felt people were pleased and relieved about the deal, but that a lot of enthusiasm had ebbed away in the years of waiting. “I’m glad, but there is a weariness.” He also regretted that the dominance of Sinn Féin and the DUP had been achieved at a cost to small, interesting parties like the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the now defunct Women’s Coalition.

Lobbyist Quintin Oliver had just returned from a meeting at Stormont. He was full of the buzz of the new regime. “I am astounded by how normal it is up there,” he said. “There are MLA’s [Members of the Leglislative Assembly] meeting delegations, lobby groups in the Long Room, school tours… There are seventeen committees set up and staffed, and the assembly commission says it has eighteen bills ready to go. The parties are desperately serious about making this work.”

Birth of a New Legacy
Belfast is changing dramatically. A “Spire of Hope” has been erected on St. Anne’s Cathedral. The Laganside development has transformed the riverfront with buildings like the Odyssey Centre and the Waterfront Hall. The cranes are about to leave the smart new Victoria Square shopping center. And the Titanic Quarter boasts in its glossy literature and state-of-the-art website that it represents the “birth of a new legacy” for the city in what is to be “Europe’s biggest waterfront regeneration project.” On the site of the old shipyards on Queen’s Island, there are to be office blocks, apartments, a college, restaurants and hotels, in an ultra-modern new quarter designed by Texan architect Eric Kuhne.

Work on the first phase has already begun. The whole project will take up to 20 years and will, according to chief executive Mike Smith, provide up to 30,000 jobs. “Political stability is important in the eyes of the world, and the world has got so small and so competitive – the cities that do best are those that have a ‘can do’ attitude. The dark days of conflict made that impossible,” he said.

“We have had a lot of interest from U.S. investors – it isn’t philanthropic – this represents a solid business proposition. We’ll be launching our master plan in Union Station at the end of June.”

The roar of the Celtic Tiger has certainly been heard among unionist businessmen north of the border. They admire its thriving private sector, its low corporation tax (half the UK rate), its fine EU-funded motorways, and its cheaper gasoline.

According to Andy Pollak, director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies at Queens University, Intertrade Ireland was the most successful of the six implementation bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement. “There is significant networking between businesses, and in health and agriculture,” he said. “It is common sense and it is not threatening to unionists.”

The British Army watchtowers have been demolished in Crossmaglen in South Armagh, and “bandit country” is now being spoken of as “within commuting distance” of Dublin. Property prices in the North are soaring; the Irish News highlighted the case of a house on Alliance Avenue in North Belfast. The headline surrounded a photograph of the four-bedroom red-brick. “Fourteen people were murdered in this street but now one house is worth £800,000,” it said.

The Slow Healing
On the peacelines in North Belfast, near Alliance Avenue, hard, decent work has quietly been going on for years to heal bitter divisions. Ardoyne community worker Jim Deery said people were pleased but underwhelmed by the new power-sharing deal. “We’ve already invited Margaret Ritchie [the SDLP’s minister for social development] to come and visit. We want to get away from grants and into proper investment. It’ll take a long time for the interface walls to come down, and even longer for the invisible walls. Devolution will make our road easier, but we’d have gone down it anyway.”

Two anniversaries this year remind us just how far the people of Northern Ireland have traveled. May 8, 2007 will be remembered as the first day of the brave new power-sharing executive. It also marks the 20th anniversary of the slaughter of eight IRA men and one civilian when the SAS thwarted an attempt by the IRA to blow up the RUC station (police station) in Loughgall, County Armagh.
Remembrance Day in November 2007 will, all going well, probably be marked by some finely choreographed ceremonial gestures on the part of leading figures in the executive. Twenty years ago it was the day the IRA massacred eleven civilians in a bomb attack on the Cenotaph in Enniskillen.

Not all of the dead are resting in peace. There are fifty or so victims’ groups, some of which are campaigning for the truth about how and why their loved ones were murdered. The truth could be unsettling – there is growing evidence that collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the British security forces was widespread, and of a network of well- placed informers in the IRA.

The death toll from the Troubles of the past 40 years is put at 3,720 by the authors of Lost Lives, a history of the murders.  However, when you take into account the broken hearts and early deaths of loved ones, it is much higher. There are also many, many lives which have been irreparably damaged. The mother of one victim told a reporter just a couple of years ago: “I’m dead.”

The last – let us hope and pray– victim of the Troubles was sixteen-year-old Catholic Michael ‘Mickybo’ McIlveen. He died of his injuries after he was set upon by a gang of loyalists in his home town of Ballymena last year. He was just four in the year of the ceasefires, eight when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

Bright Future from Troubling Past
The creation of this new, more “normal” environment did not come easily. Adams and McGuinness have worked, and have been seen to work, to bring their people with them, abandoning the armalite in favor of the ballot box alone. Well over 90 percent of nationalists who voted in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement voted “yes.”

Yet it seemed that nothing could move Paisley. Decommissioning didn’t impress him. The declaration of “an end to the armed campaign” was dismissed – there would have to be a “testing period,” which might, according to DUP diehards, last a generation or even two. But in 2007, a mere six weeks’ delay in starting up the new regime was all that was required.

“Today we have agreed with Sinn Féin…” said Paisley, announcing the May 8 start-up date. There was, simply, nowhere else to go. The unionist people wanted devolution back. They wanted to have local ministers to lobby. They wanted a government to reflect the normality they were already living.

Edwin Poots’ first political memory was of attending a rally to celebrate the Ulster Workers’ Strike that destroyed the power-sharing executive in 1974. “I remember looking up at Stormont and thinking, what a fantastic place,” he said. A DUP MLA for the Lagan Valley constituency outside Belfast, Poots is to be minister for arts, culture and leisure.

He is a sober-suited young beef farmer, a Free Presbyterian, Apprentice Boy and Orangeman, and a church youth worker. “I’m more interested in leisure than in culture and arts,” he said. “Though I’ve nothing against culture and the arts.” His first big decision will be whether the Maze prison site, where the demolition of the H Blocks has just begun, will become the North’s new sports stadium.

His father was a DUP councilor before him, and had been targeted by theIRA, though he was “well respected by both communities,” Poots insisted. His explanation for the deal with Sinn Féin is simple. “We had exhausted all the benefits we could derive from holding out,” he said. The people were “fed up with fighting,” he said. “There is a spirit of goodwill that presently exists – a willingness to make things work.

“There’ll be plenty of issues on which we are diametrically opposed, but someone will blink and there will be compromises.”

Michelle Gildernew’s grandmother was in the vanguard of the fight against arrogant unionist majority rule. She was part of the delegation of civil rights activists and republicans, which squatted a house in Caledon, Co. Armagh in 1967. Her daughter, married and with children, was refused tenancy, which was given to a young single Protestant woman who was secretary to a local unionist.

Forty years later, Gildernew, Sinn Féin MP (member of parliament) and MLA for Fermanagh-Tyrone, has just been appointed minister for agriculture at Stormont. Like Poots, she is from farming stock. Her family is strongly republican, but like Poots, she insisted, it was respected by the other community.

Her mother was, in effect, a sort of voluntary community worker.

“She would drive a bus of relatives to the prison by day and then in the evening she’d be filling out forms for local unionist farmers.  One of them told her the Orange Order had sent him down to get her help!”

Gildernew has already met the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) and said the meeting was “excellent.” She said unionist farmers whose fields were “marching the border” had, like their nationalist neighbors, long been aware that farmers in the Republic had a better deal. “We can do things better in an all-island context,” she said.

Clarke Black, chief executive of the UFU, and from a Protestant and unionist background, broadly agreed. “The ROI [Republic of Ireland] government favors farming in a way the UK government simply does not,” he said. “We think Michelle will work well for us.
She understands our members’ needs.” Gildernew thinks the new regime at Stormont will work. “The DUP has a strong, charismatic leader who has the wherewithal to make it happen,” she said. “The mood music is good.”

Senator George Mitchell, the President Clinton appointee who chaired the talks, famously wrote that if the DUP had been at the table, the Good Friday Agreement would probably never have been reached. He also predicted in 1998 there would be setbacks along the way to its fullimplementation. “I didn’t expect it to takethis long,” he said. “But I’m pleased and gratified that it is now in place.” He paid tribute to the courageous contribution made by Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, who died suddenly earlier this year.

Ervine’s funeral brought the first of the year’s healing moments when Gerry Adams embraced Ervine’s widow, Jeannette, then calmly walked out of the East Belfast Mission in the heart of loyalist East Belfast. Hundreds of hard men in the crowd waiting to escort the coffin swiveled their heads towards him in amazement, but no one raised a finger or shouted a word of insult.

The honeymoon days may end, and this is in any case a marriage without any sign of love. As Duncan Morrow, director of the Community Relations Council put it, we may be looking towards “not so much a shared future as a shared out one.” But where we are now is so much better than where we have come from.

Perhaps the greatest sign of hope comes from the heartfelt message sent to President Bush and the American people in April, in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at Virginia Tech University. The communication read, “Our thoughts are with the parents and families of those who have died. . .” This was the first joint message from Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, old and bitter enemies, newly united as first and deputy first ministers respectively of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. It went on, “We fully understand the impact that events like this can have on a community and the population as a whole…,” the carefully chosen words reflecting the extraordinary new diplomacy which prevails in Belfast. ♦

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Bliss to Be Alive https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/bliss-to-be-alive/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/bliss-to-be-alive/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:59:13 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10704 Read more..]]> Belfast: “Bliss it was to be alive” the poet William Wordsworth once wrote. It felt like that in Belfast on Tuesday, May 8th.

What the world thought was once impossible was suddenly live before my very eyes. The Reverend Ian Paisley, the paragon of hardline Protestantism, and Martin McGuinness, the former IRA leader, were walking down the ornate stairway of Stormont Castle together, flanked by the British and Irish leaders Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern.

They were about to announce to the world media that the impossible had happened. The two most hardline parties in the North had agreed to form a power-sharing government, bringing an end to The Troubles.

Their joint announcement had even grizzled journalists shaking their heads. “I thought I had seen everything,” said one. Perhaps we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Even Paisley himself seemed in a state of disbelief. He said if someone had predicted he’d be standing in Stormont one day announcing a joint government with Sinn Féin, he’d have utterly disbelieved them. Yet here he was, on a cool spring day, with hope blooming like the May flowers outside.

Insiders say it was his wife Eileen, to whom he is devoted, who finally swung the reverend towards compromise. She convinced him his legacy would be as a man of peace, not war, if he took the plunge. She did the Lord’s work if she did.

I had traveled on a bus that morning to Stormont, so long the seat of Unionist power. On board were about 40 members of Sinn Féin from the Falls Road area, cockpit of The Troubles. In the early morning rain they had smiles to wake up the sun. This was their day.
After generations of bending to Unionist power and supremacy, they were now going to share power on an equal basis. They would enter Stormont as equals, driving past the statue of Edward Carson, founder of Ulster Unionism, not with heads bowed and eyes averted but with heads held high.

I met Father Alec Reid. He is the lone- wolf clergyman who back in 1986 brought John Hume, then leader of Ireland’s nationalists, and Gerry Adams together to begin the discussions that  kick-started the peace process. In 1986  the interminable violence seemed never likely to end. Alec Reid was one of the few who believed otherwise.

“It took 21 years,” he said to me, “but wasn’t it worth it for this?”

I met Albert Reynolds, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister), who had taken the momentous decision to talk to Sinn Féin in the early 1990s at a time when every government in the world was shunning them. He looks older now than in his heyday, but the grin on his face was as wide as a barn door. “I always knew it could be done,” he said in that clipped language of his. “Just a matter of courage and commitment.”

There was certainly plenty of that around. Men like Senator Edward Kennedy showed it. When Kennedy was approached for help on a visa for Gerry Adams to come to America in 1994 he didn’t hesitate. That visa played a huge role in the IRA ceasefire in August of that year.

Now here was Kennedy at Stormont, sitting in one of the executive offices that surely had housed a Unionist minister at one time who no doubt was turning and spitting fire in his grave. Ted looked jet- lagged, having just flown in, but there was joy in his heart. “What happened today sends a message to the world that peaceful change can happen, even in the worst trouble spots,” he told me.

Also from America came Chuck Feeney and Bill Flynn, two businessmen who had played huge roles along with Kennedy in getting the Clinton White House to intervene in Northern Ireland, something no other White House had ever done. This was their day too.

But at the end, the day belonged to everybody in Northern Ireland, to every young mother who would not have to worry about a son killed or jailed in The Troubles, to every young man and woman to whom the future suddenly looked as bright as this suddenly sunny May day. Truly blessed are the peacemakers, even when they are as unlikely as Ian Paisley. ♦

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The Old Sod Blooms at Philly Flower Show https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/the-old-sod-blooms-at-philly-flower-show/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/the-old-sod-blooms-at-philly-flower-show/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:58:51 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10708 Read more..]]> It wasn’t merely the classic ‘bit of the auld sod’ when the Legends of Ireland commanded center stage at the Philadelphia Flower Show in early March. It was an attempt by North America’s largest garden showcase (and at 178 years, the world’s longest running) to mirror the Irish landscape as well as polished gardens in an indoor setting.

Some 258,000 visitors (up 18,000 from 2006) were enchanted with the concept guest designer Chris Woods and permanent director Sam Lemheney conceived.

“We roamed the countryside and visited gardens and tried for a synopsis of 400 years of Irish garden design,” said Woods, the British-born horticulturalist, who brought his life-long love of Ireland to the show. “We wanted a weaving of Ireland’s long history of gardens, arts and crafts.” He also hoped for a show that mirrored “the vibrancy of the Irish people. Ireland is one of the most civilized places on Earth,” he said.

Woods is director of VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, moving there after finding another Irish passion. “I fell in love with an Irish woman.”

The centerpiece, which told the story of Tir-Na-nÓg, the land of the young, through Celtic gardens, music and entertainment, evoked an “emotional response” said Lemheney. It played to myth and imagination with a ‘living” archway featuring flowers, ferns and artfully woven tree limbs inspired by art from the Book of Kells at the Ealain Wood, where ‘creatures’ roamed under giant trees and flutes and harps trilled.

“It’s hard to depict the old oak woodlands or beech trees of Kerry in fabric but we hoped for a sense of scale,” said Woods, who toured gardens like Powerscourt and Mount Stewart for inspiration for the for- mal garden portions of the show.
Beyond the wood was a magnificent courtyard and the Knot Garden, shimmer- ing with crystals and flowers and flanked by two 40-foot waterways with spiral fountains and Celtic banners.
This formal setting provided a grand platform for the Castle of the Emerald Kingdom, an estate with tiered garden, turrets and towers. Inside, performances of traditional Irish music were staged.

A favorite display, the “Rose of Glendalough” by Celtic Gardens of Dexter, MI in which designers recreated the haunting ruins of the 13th-century St. Kevin’s chapel in Wicklow, won the horticultural society’s best in Show. Other highlights were: Thirty varieties of Irish Ivy at the American Ivy Society’s exhibit;

Burke Brothers’ tranquil golf course and lush green vistas; an Irish garden of gold- en plants by Stoney Bank Nurseries. Entertainment at the garden showcase included performances of Ragus, and noted Irish garden author Helen Dillon was on hand to dispense her expertise. ♦

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Irish Eye on Hollywood https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/irish-eye-on-hollywood-19/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/irish-eye-on-hollywood-19/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:57:49 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10711 Read more..]]> The Tribeca Film Festival opened in late April, and Cillian Murphy’s latest effort was among the films featured. Watching the Detectives, which teams the Cork-born Murphy with Lucy Liu, was screened several times during the two-week fest, which closed May 6. Watching the Detectives is a romantic comedy directed by newcomer Paul Soter, who also wrote the script.

Murphy – whose increasingly impressive resume includes indy fare such as Breakfast on Pluto and The Wind that Shakes the Barley as well as blockbusters such as Red Eye and Batman Begins – plays a film buff who falls for a beautiful femme fatale (Liu) who seems to have stepped right out of a movie.

Watching the Detectives should be released wide later this year. Murphy remains busy, though his upcoming film Sunshine has hit a bump in the road. The sci-fi thriller, which re-teams Murphy with director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Trainspotting), was supposed to be released in the U.S. in March but has reportedly been pushed back to September.

Murphy will also portray Dylan Thomas in the 2008 release The Time of Our Lives. Murphy has the pleasant task of being the man stuck in the middle of Irish-American tabloid favorite Lindsay Lohan and Kiera Knightley. Nice work if you can get it!

It’s a special occasion when enormous amounts of Irish talent converge on a big time Hollywood project: think about Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson and John C. Reilly in The Gangs of New York, or Neeson and Pierce Brosnan in last year’s intense Seraphim Falls.
Well, the Irish stars have aligned once again for what could be the most impressive assemblage of Irish talent for a non-Irish film.
In Bruges is the rather unpoetic title of a thriller which is shooting now and set for release next year. The film will star Colin Farrell as well as Brendan Gleeson and was written and directed by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh.

Ralph Fiennes will also star in the film, the first full-length cinematic work from McDonagh, following his Oscar-winning short Six Shooter (which also starred Gleeson).

Studio execs have already called McDonagh’s script “killingly funny and dramatically affecting,” words which also describe McDonagh’s intense yet riotous Irish plays such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Skull in Connemara.

In Bruges is about two hit men (Farrell and Gleeson) in London who are ordered by their boss (Fiennes) to run off to the titular Belgian city.

Once in Bruges, however, they are drawn into situations both absurd and deadly. In Bruges should hit theaters next year. Until then, Brendan Gleeson will be seen this summer in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, once again playing Professor Alastor “MadEye” Moody. Irish stage veteran Fiona Shaw also reprises her supporting role as Harry’s loathsome Aunt Petunia.

Finally, Gleeson will play Winston Churchill in an HBO/BBC production entitled Churchill at War, a follow-up to 2002’s The Gathering Storm.

Churchill at War explores how the stoic Brit became a legendary wartime leader. (Albert Finney portrayed Churchill in the earlier production, which won three Emmy Awards.)

Now, a word about A-list stars working alongside a completely unknown Irish actress. Jayne Wisener, from Coleraine, Derry, will star alongside Johnny Depp in the upcoming screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The 19-year-old Wisener will portray Johanna in the thriller about a bloodthirsty barber. The film will be directed by quirky Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and also stars Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Wisener told the Belfast Telegraph: “I’m so excited – I still can’t believe it. To get the chance to work with such renowned actors is a dream come true. The support and prayers from family and friends have been wonderful. To get to this stage has taken a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.”

Sweeney Todd is currently shooting and will hit screens in 2008.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who gave an impressive turn as Henry VIII in Showtime’s The Tudors (Series II will shoot in Ireland over the coming months) will appear in the October release August Rush alongside Robin Williams. The film (about an orphaned musical prodigy searching for his parents) was directed by Kirsten Sheridan, whose dad happens to be Irish cinema legend Jim Sheridan.
Rhys-Meyers has also signed on to appear in The Children of Huang Shi, a dramatic epic which also features Radha Mitchell and Chow Yun-Fat and is set in war-torn China in the late 1930s.

The Children of Huang Shi is based on the life of George Hogg (played by Rhys-Meyers), a young British journalist who saved 60 children who were about to become orphans. Hogg led the children on a dangerous 1,000-mile journey through mountains to safety. Along the way he fell in love with a nurse (Mitchell).

Belfast veteran of stage and screen Stephen Rea recently appeared alongside Hilary Swank in the plague-infested film The Reaping. He has another horror film in the can, which also features a well-known actress as his co-star. In Stuck (due out later this year or early next) Rea plays a homeless man who is hit by a car driven by Mena Suvari (American Beauty). The victim actually becomes stuck to the car, but the driver, instead of assisting him, actually goes home, parks in her garage and leaves him to die – or rescue himself.

Rea also has an Irish film in production, which marks the directorial debut of Lance Daly, who wrote the 2001 movie Last Days in Dublin. Daly’s next film (which he also wrote) is called Kisses and is about two children who run away from home on Christmas but spend the evening on the mean streets of inner-city Dublin. Newcomers Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry star as the runaway kids.

Speaking of Rea, he famously appeared in the now-classic film based on Patrick McCabe’s book, The Butcher Boy. That movie has finally been released on DVD, with commentary by director and co-screenwriter Neil Jordan, as well as other extras. It’s a shame that this movie, considered by some to be one of the best Irish movies ever, took so long to become available on DVD.

Irish producer, writer and director Terry George is sticking with multinational subjects following the success of Hotel Rwanda. He is reportedly writing a script about U.N. envoy Sergio Viera de Mello, who was killed by a bomb in Baghdad in 2003.

George was quoted as saying that de Mello is a fascinating character because he “served in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, pretty much every hot spot in the world.”

One source George is consulting is the book A Problem from Hell, which won a Pulitzer Prize and was written by Irish-born Samantha Power, who immigrated to the U.S. with her parents at a young age.

On to TV news. Kate Walsh (whose middle name is Erin) has become such a star alongside fellow Irish-American Patrick Dempsey in Grey’s Anatomy that the show’s creators are developing a spin-off that will center around Walsh’s Dr. Montgomery. Current plans have Montgomery leaving the Seattle hospital  and moving to another facility in California (which, coincidentally, is where Walsh was born).

Finally, Cindy Adams made a blunder in a recent New York Post column when she wrote: “Roll over Colin Farrell. Ireland’s next hottie is James McAvoy from The Last King of Scotland.” Cindy, call your fact checker! McAvoy did play the title role in the tiny 2005 Irish film Rory O’Shea Was Here. But that does not change the fact that he was born in Glasgow. McAvoy did earn honorary Irish points while researching his role in Becoming Jane. He plays an 18th-century Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

McAvoy refused to give the character an Irish accent. “It’s completely disrespectful to an Irishman to suggest the English overlords all had Irish accents, just because you want a bit of the Irish blarney for the American audiences.” ♦

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De Valera’s “Tree of Liberty” at Notre Dame https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/de-valeras-tree-of-liberty-at-notre-dame/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/de-valeras-tree-of-liberty-at-notre-dame/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:56:47 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10713 Read more..]]> Captured in May 1918 and imprisoned in Lincoln Prison, England, Eamon de Valera, Ireland’s future president, escaped in dramatic fashion on February 3, 1919. Fearing the propaganda boost his re-arrest would provide England, the IRA dispatched de Valera to the United States. His mission was to acquire official U.S. support for Irish independence, and raise funds. He traveled through the States visiting Irish groups, meeting politicians and collecting funds that totaled $6 million.

One visit took him to South Bend, Indiana, where he planted a “Tree of Liberty,” at Notre Dame University.

The Scholastic, the university’s student newspaper, reported that University President Fr. Burns, had invited de Valera to address the student body on Wednesday, October 15, 1919: “Elaborate preparations are being made at the University by the committees acting with the local branch of the Friends of Irish Freedom for the reception of the distinguished visitor. If the necessary arrangements can be made, the students will be asked to turn out en masse for a parade, and the school’s newly-organized band will be expected to add ‘tone’ to the reception.”

The following week’s edition counseled that “Notre Dame’s welcome should be worthy of the eminence of her guest.” And indeed it was. The Ave Maria newspaper reported on the visit thusly: “It was characteristically gracious of Dr. Eamon de Valera, ‘King of Ireland,’ as one youthful admirer calls him to assure the students of the University of Notre Dame that he would remember as ‘His happiest day in America’ the one on which he visited them. The address in which he made this statement evoked such applause as the eminent Irishman seldom hears, it was so spontaneous, continuous and uproarious. He was listened to with breathless attention – every one present seemingly eager to catch every word that fell from his lips. But his personality made even a deeper impression – his gravity when speaking of serious things, his reverence when referring to holy things. Few failed to observe how recollectedly he said Grace at table, and how thoroughly absorbed he seemed to be while kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. A good as well as a great man, a leader who inspires the highest respect and the fullest confidence, is President Eamon de Valera.”

De Valera’s speech, subsequently published in The Scholastic, concerned Ireland’s favorable attitude to the League of Nations, the morality of the 1916 Rising, and the potential for peaceful political cooperation between Catholic and Protestant.

Writing in The Scholastic, T.J. Tobin commented: “Upon his arrival, Mr. de Valera received one of the greatest ovations that Notre Dame has ever accorded a visitor. After exchanging greetings with Very Rev. Provincial Morrissey and the members of the faculty, he proceeded to the Statue of Father Corby, at the foot of which he laid a wreath bearing the inscription “From Eamon de Valera in loving tribute to Father Corby who gave general absolution to the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg.” After he had spoken briefly upon the importance of the role played by Army chaplains, he was taken to the University Library and shown the Gaelic collection in which are the sword of General Meaghar and the flag of the Irish Brigade. From the Library he went to the center of the quadrangle and there planted a tree as a memorial of his visit.”

De Valera would return to Ireland in December 1920 and later lead the anti-Treaty forces in the Irish Civil War, during which he would again be arrested and imprisoned, on this occasion by his former comrades. His supporters appealed to Notre Dame “to use its influence to obtain immediate information regarding the present condition and whereabouts of the distinguished scholar and statesman its President and faculty took pride in honoring if for no other reason than to alleviate the suffering and anxiety of his sorrowing wife (or perhaps widow) and family and to join in the nationwide demand for his release, if still alive.”

On his release, de Valera became the dominant political figure in 20th-century Ireland, establishing Fianna Fáil, holding various political offices and authoring Ireland’s 1937 constitution. He ended his political career as President of Ireland, serving two terms from 1959 until 1973. He was also the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1922 until 1975.

Sadly, visitors to Notre Dame  seeking the tree planted by de Valera will look in vain. A mere week after the future Irish president’s departure, a student of “the Unionist persuasion” deracinated the tree and deposited it in one of the placid lakes flanking the famous grotto. (Notre Dame, then as now, was a politically diverse institution). The tree was never replanted – an oversight that continues to this day. ♦

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While Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/while-memry-brings-us-back-again/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/while-memry-brings-us-back-again/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:55:44 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10716 Read more..]]> Memory is the bond that ties us to home, even when we are far away. And now a stirring book produced by The Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers explores the connections Irish immigrants to New York have with their native land.

While Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again spans the era from 1927 to 1964, and consists of heartfelt narratives by immigrants describing their recollections of Ireland, their motives for coming to New York and the regrets and successes they encountered here.

Its contributors are diverse. One-hundred-year-old Jimmy Clark opens the book in reflective mood; feisty Agnes Delaney brings it to a close. They and 32 others evoke a disappearing Ireland. They remember poverty – the lack of work, the struggle to survive on small farms and the shimmering promise of America.

There is nostalgia for long-lost traditions. Bridget Glendon describes the magical sight of a lantern-lit procession that wound its way through her native parish every Christmas Eve.

Throughout the stories, there is an abiding love of family, affection for home and a sense of sadness. These people left Ireland reluctantly, forced by economic hardship to venture far from all they knew and loved. They came to a city we would scarcely recognize today. They recall subway trains furnished with itch-inducing straw-filled seats. They remember being intimidated by highrise buildings and crowded streets.

There were other challenges too. Theresa McNamara remembers being ridiculed for not knowing what sherbet was. Agnes Delaney admitted defeat when confronted with a vacuum cleaner.

Yet New York City presented even the greenest newcomer with boundless possibilities. The Irish found work here easily, filling the ranks of the Police Force, the Fire Department and the New York Telephone Company.

They may have embraced their new opportunities but they still enjoyed Irish culture. They danced to Irish music in Jaeger House, the Tara Ballroom and in many other dance halls. They played sports for their home counties in Gaelic Park on Sundays.
“We became more Irish than the people we had left behind,” says musician Sean Fleming.

Meanwhile, at home, Ireland was changing. People were becoming more prosperous. Some of those interviewed bemoaned the loss of traditional values while welcoming the newfound affluence,

America too has changed, especially following 9/11. For many though, their belief in their adopted country remains unshaken.  “I saw people of all persuasions run to help one another on that day and it gives me great hope,” says Carmen Purcell. “New York is magic and it will never lose that.”

This book is a snapshot in time – a time when Ireland could not be a home to her people, when America was at her most alluring and when immigrants helped shaped the country that America has now become.

Agnes Delaney captures its significance when she says: “The Ireland they left behind does not exist as they knew it; the America that welcomed them has changed as well. This nostalgic journey of lives, which may have seemed ordinary in the living, has become extraordinary in the retelling.”

This book is a fascinating chapter in the history of Irish America, one of this country’s most interesting stories.

The Aisling Irish Community Center, 990 McLean Avenue, Yonkers, New York 10704.
Tel: 914 237 5121.
Fax: 914 237 1723.
Email: info@aislingcenter.org ♦

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Stars of the Southwest https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/stars-of-the-southwest/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/stars-of-the-southwest/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:54:40 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10720 Read more..]]> With an estimated 450,000 Irish and counting living in Arizona, it’s suitable that the Irish Cultural Center of Phoenix’s expansion plans were celebrated with an exhibit of one of the largest and finest private Irish art collections in the world, which opened with a black tie dinner preview at the Phoenix Art Museum this past March.

Proceeds from the event benefited the Phoenix Irish Cultural Center’s library project. Once built, the 11,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility, will house a permanent collection of 5,000-6,000 books and materials such as paintings, poetry, music, films, newspapers, magazines, and other artifacts.

The exhibit, which was open for viewing at the Phoenix Art Museum from March 3 through April 27, 2007, featured The Brian P. Burns Collection of Irish Paintings and included mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century paintings by Willian Orpen, Paul Henry, Jack B. Yeats, Walter Osbourne and others.  The exhibition was enhanced by a display of rare books and manuscripts by William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and others, which were on loan from  the John J. Burns Library at Boston College.

“It’s time that Ireland’s contributions to the arts are more celebrated and enjoyed in Phoenix,” said Norman McClelland, Chairman of Shamrock Foods Company and co-chair of the Irish Cultural Center Library Committee. The exhibit helped launch fundraising for the library which will ultimately serve as an exceptional resource to the greater Phoenix area and the rest of the Southwest.

“Arizona is proving to be a major player in preserving and celebrating Irish culture,” said Émer Deane, Ireland’s Consul in the Southwest, who attended the opening with other notables including Former Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulrooney.

The Phoenix Irish Cultural Center, a private-public partnership with the City of Phoenix, is located at 1106 N. Central Ave. in downtown Phoenix. For more information see their website: www.azirish.org ♦

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Okie Faces & Irish Eyes: John Steinbeck & Route 66 https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/okie-faces-irish-eyes-john-steinbeck-route-66/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/okie-faces-irish-eyes-john-steinbeck-route-66/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:54:17 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10733 Read more..]]> The ad man knew what he was doing. Hired to write copy about a road that didn’t yet exist, he had an idea: create something out of whole cloth. He had as his subject an about-to-be-named Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway, the ramshackle one that would be quilted together from dozens of variously named and sometimes unconnected roads. He would dress that baby up. He’d call it “America’s Main Street.”

Sheer genius, because in one fell swoop, the ad man made an alternate reality for a road that would take ten more years to be completely paved, an alternate reality that Americans bought and have never, as a culture, given up.

For all the things that Route 66 is, it is also a repository of the baggage that one culture can foist upon an inanimate thing. The story of Route 66 is the story of two roads. The first is the asphalt one that existed, the one that brought many Americans west, for whatever reasons, the one that lived and breathed the era it was in.

Then there is the emblematic road, the one we have experienced through an important novel (John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath), a ditty of a song (“Get Your Kicks on Route 66”), a beat poet (Jack Kerouac), a TV show, good press, well-meaning cultural historians and
endless nostalgia.

A California-born novelist who once opined, “I’m half Irish, the rest of my blood being watered down with German and Massachusetts English, but Irish blood doesn’t water down very well; the strain must be very strong,” first referred to Route 66 as “The Mother Road.” John Steinbeck framed the road’s capacity for pathos and redemption; he was also the first to set Route 66 apart as a cultural icon.

John Ernst Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California in 1902. His father, a miller of German extraction, served as Monterey County Treasurer for many years. His Scot-Irish mother, Olive Hamilton, was a schoolteacher who developed in Steinbeck an early love of literature.

In 1919, Steinbeck graduated from Salinas High School as president of his class and entered Stanford University, majoring in English. Stanford did not claim his undivided attention. Steinbeck left the school in 1925 to pursue a writing career in New York City. He was unsuccessful and returned, disappointed, to California the following year.

After moving to the Monterey Peninsula in 1930, Steinbeck and his new wife, Carol Henning, made their home in Pacific Grove. Here, not far from famed Cannery Row, heart of California’s sardine industry, Steinbeck found material he would later use for two of his novels, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. Moved to anger by the brutality of the Great Depression, Steinbeck’s characters and stories drew on actual historical conditions and events in the first half of the 20th century.

 The Grapes of Wrath  
The drought came to western Oklahoma and surrounding states. Then came the wind; before long, the term “Dust Bowl” was coined. Dust covered the crops, choked the livestock, and blew so black that it tricked chickens into roosting at midday. The migrants from whom Steinbeck drew his fiction came out of the South and Great Plains — a great tide of more than a million people that flowed westward through the 1930s in search of work and shelter.

The seeds of the novel were sown some time before the writing of it. One myth has it that Steinbeck joined the migrants on their long trek from Oklahoma City to California. He did not. Returning from a trip to Europe in September 1937, Steinbeck and his wife bought a car in Chicago and headed south to pick up Route 66. He traveled enough of the route to provide geographical details, but his firsthand experience with migrants occurred in the agricultural fields and labor camps of California.

Route 66 is simply a character in The Grapes of Wrath story. It is the journey that imbued the road with its power, not the other way around. And it was the journey that would yield, for Steinbeck, a Pulitzer and later, in 1962, the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The route had a respectable history before it witnessed the flight of the dispossessed. Parts of its northern leg from Chicago to the mouth of the Missouri River followed the 1673 portage route of Marquette and Joliet in their exploration of the upper Mississippi River.  In 1926 the road received the official title of U.S. Route 66. It began at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue in Chicago and ran 2,248 miles through three time zones and eight states before dead-ending at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. It was called the Main Street of America. Funneled down farm roads of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico and Arkansas, many refugees could only say that their destination was “West.”

The highway they traveled was Route 66, the road of desperation described by Steinbeck as “the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the Dust Bowl’s slow northward migration, from twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness there is. People come onto 66 from tributary wagon tracks and rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight.”

Yet, despite the grimness, what many readers of The Grapes of Wrath most remember is its portrayal of the road being a setting for moments of miraculous humanity. Wrote Steinbeck: “There was a family of 12, and they were forced off the land. They had no car. They built a trailer out of junk and loaded it with their possessions. They then pulled it to the side of 66 and waited. Pretty soon, a sedan picked them up. Five of them rode in the sedan and seven on the trailer. They got to California in two jumps. The man who pulled them, fed them. That’s true. But how can such courage be, and such faith in their own species? Very few things would teach such faith.” The road became emblematic of the path to the American Dream, the one that came out of despair.

  A Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City
After World War II, the golden age of the automobile dawned, and Airstream trailers made their way down the route. Merchants and café owners made 66 colorful enough and diverting enough to change the notion that the route was a road to someplace else; rather, it was a destination in itself.

The modern gas station was born here. Phillips 66 gasoline was so dubbed because a company official was testing the gas in a car in Oklahoma. Someone remarked that the car “goes like 60.” The official looked at the speedometer and said: “We’re doing 66.” The car was doing 66 mph on Route 66 near Tulsa. The company took the hint at its next board meeting and the Phillips 66 company was born.

The End  
President Dwight Eisenhower, who had seen the efficiency of Germany’s roads during World War II, decided in 1956 that this country needed a quick way to get troops, materiel and people to where they were going. If you were a former general, the destination became the point again. If you were busy, ditto. Passage of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 sounded the death knell for Route 66, replaced by something called Interstate 40.

The small town of Williams, Arizona tried to say no to the interstate, but in 1985, the last official Route 66 signs came down. That is, federal highway officials said it wasn’t their road anymore and they weren’t going to maintain it. Nevertheless, much of the pavement remains, and a great deal of Route 66 is still navigable, if you can find it.

What to See and Do  
The Mother Road lies in scattered fragments, here and there. Sometimes it’s a trendy thoroughfare through urban centers and storefronts appealing to nostalgia:

66 Antique Mall. Salon 66. Saloon 66. Route 66 Roadhouse. In some little towns, it’s an abandoned main street.

Off a dusty farm road near Lamont, California, John Steinbeck found a haven amid fields of toil. The Arvin Federal Camp, or Weedpatch Camp as it was known, still stands on the edge of town. Here, Steinbeck described a place where migrants could find shelter, sanitary facilities and, above all, dignity.

It still offers all that. The camp, now called the Sunset Labor Camp, is home to migrant workers and their families. Most are the children of Mexican immigrants.

If the Mother Road is known historically for anything special besides seemingly endless desert, reptile farms and funky motels, it is food. Not the homogenous fast-food outlets of today, but the individual mom-and-pop restaurants of mid-20th-century highway lore. Many of these special Route 66 eateries — some dating to the 1920s — are alive and well, still serving their specialties, which provide motorists with a taste of local color, life and fare.

Just west of Oklahoma City in downtown El Reno, Robert’s Grill has been serving tasty onion burgers since 1926. There are no booths or tables inside the small white building, only a dozen stools around an L-shaped counter. Even the prices seem from an earlier era: seven hamburgers for $5. In Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the Club Cafe, dating from 1935, has a mini-museum on its walls featuring Route 66 memorabilia.

Many of the visitors at the Route 66 cafes, museums, and roadside cottages are from Western Europe, Japan and Asia. Some Route 66 books are printed only in foreign languages. Web sites are multilingual. There’s even a Route 66 bar in Ireland.

Speaking of which, there is a certain fascination that foreigners, particularly the Irish, have with Route 66. In August of 2006, I encountered a group of Irish bikers in Tulsa. As a news reporter observed, you might have heard the roar of many Harleys, but if you got close, you would have heard Irish accents too.

Some 93 Irish bikers roared into Tulsa, looking for a taste of America. They also had a serious goal: raising money for a children’s hospital in Dublin. The enthusiasts rode through eight states in eight days on old Route 66. And since they raised more than a million dollars, the saddle sores didn’t matter.

The flags were Irish but the bikes were American. The motorcyclists rented their machines in Chicago and dropped them off in Los Angeles. For Jenny Huston, an Irish radio announcer, and Tony Toner, the road captain, the welcome the group received was a little too warm. “We’re melting,” said Toner. “I stood 6 foot 6 when I left Chicago and now I’m 6 foot 2 and shrinking rapidly. We’re not used to this kind of heat in Ireland. But we’re bearing it for a good cause and to find out about the Route 66 most of us have only read about and seen on television. The Irish have always been explorers and adventurers. We love motorcycles back home and it’s easy to understand why Route 66 is considered by many to be the most iconic road on the planet.”

“If I could do this book properly, it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book,” John Steinbeck wrote in his journal. “But I am assailed by my own ignorance and inability.”

He was 36, an Irish-German Californian, a college dropout who had been a laborer, then a journalist documenting the plight of the migrants. He was also an established author who had written a half-dozen novels, including Of Mice and Men.

When The Grapes of Wrath was published in April 1939, schools and libraries banned it, preachers railed against it and Oklahoma Congressman Lyle Boren denounced it as “a lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.”

The book did win Steinbeck worldwide acclaim and spurred congressional investigations into California labor practices. It created a stir that lasted long after the wartime buildup brought migrants jobs and World War II sent those migrants into battle.

Steinbeck wrote a dozen more novels before his death in 1968, but nothing compared with his Dust Bowl epic.

As recently as 1990, a Broadway stage version of The Grapes of Wrath won a Tony for best play.

After completing The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck recorded in his journal that he should someday write a book depicting his own people. Fourteen years later, he began Salinas Valley, the story of his mother’s Scot-Irish family, the Hamiltons. After he introduced the fictitious Trasks, whose story consumed the novel, Steinbeck changed the title to East of Eden. The theme inherent in East of Eden was the dream of all settlers in the Salinas Valley, both migrant and native, that there they would realize an earthly paradise.

Somewhere along the way, Route 66 became our collective highway experience. And in the 20th century, we were looking for one. We were about to become a culture that would discover not just the automobile but with it the knowledge that we didn’t have to live forever in the place we started. We could dream. We could expect better.

We were about to take a long road trip. We needed a metaphor for the journey. We got it on Route 66. ♦

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The Céide Fields https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/the-ceide-fields/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/the-ceide-fields/#comments Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:54:13 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10730 Read more..]]> Liam Moriarty explores the Stone Age archaeological wonder in County Mayo.

When one thinks of Stone Age archaeological sites, Stonehenge, Altamira and Newgrange may come to mind. Most likely The Céide Fields will not. But it should.

On the way to Ballycastle, County Mayo I was not sure what to expect. Neither was I sure, given the treacherous nature of the cliff-side Irish road, that I would arrive.

My experience in archaeology lay with the ancient Mediterranean world — the colossal monuments of Greece and Rome. I had visited marble temples stretching into the sky and seen vast cities of intricate stone streets. The idea of field walls did not conjure up images of importance or grandeur.

The Fields were not featured in a single book I had read nor were they covered in any class I had attended (not even “Neolithic and Bronze Age Farming Communities”). I was skeptical of what might be so significant on the cliffs of Mayo. I shouldn’t have been.

For this is not just another archaeological monument or visitor center, it is the world’s most extensive Stone Age Monument — the remains of a highly skilled and organized agrarian Neolithic society, which has been preserved undisturbed for nearly 5,000 years.

The Fields are almost completely concealed underneath a blanket bog, which has safeguarded the site from both natural and human destructive forces, being that it is hard to erode or loot something under four meters of densely packed plant matter. This is both a blessing and a curse for the archaeologists, including my guide, Gretta Byrne. The bog and size of the site make conventional archaeological techniques, such as the use of trenches, largely infeasible.

Patrick Caulfield, a local schoolteacher, first discovered the site during the 1930s. While cutting peat bog for fuel, Patrick came across piles of dry-mortared stone stacks that he concluded were man-made and due to their location deep under the bog, ancient. Patrick’s son, Seamus, grew up to be an archaeologist, and it was he who began the first true excavation of the Céide Fields in 1970.
Seamus discovered an oval enclosure within which there were a number of postholes for roof supports. The enclosure, probably a domestic structure, was replete with an outside hearth and what conceivably had been an animal pen. Pottery shards and other domestic materials were found within the enclosure.

Through cross comparison with pottery found in tombs and Neolithic sites in Western Europe, the Céide Fields’ shards, along with radiocarbon dating from the hearth, placed the occupancy of the enclosure at around 3000 B.C. A primitive plough head was also discovered within the enclosure, which gave additional evidence of animal husbandry, probably cattle, as the horse was not yet introduced to Ireland.

Much of the rest of the site remains underneath the bog. The Céide Fields workers rely on probing, an inventive yet rudimentary way of mapping the site adapted from a traditional practice of finding ancient trees deep beneath the bog. An archaeologist (or like-minded volunteer) pushes an iron rod down into the bog until met with resistance such as a stone wall. The wall position is then marked and followed in its presumed direction, much like a game of Battleship. In this way, the main plan of the Céide Fields has been discerned. A number of sectional cuts have also been made into the bog, unearthing segments of these stone walls. Primarily, this has been done for the benefit of the visitors. Interestingly, the bog is already reclaiming these sections.

The Céide Fields, as understood today, is a network of parallel stone enclosures with a number of those walls running up to two kilometers in length. The site has been mapped up to ten square kilometers or four square miles but it is clear that the site is much more expansive than these numbers suggest. Although there is one known domestic structure (Seamus’ oval enclosure) found, there must be others.

The sheer scale of the site is an indication of the size of the population and the degree of organization that it would have taken to construct such fields. The area, at the time of the stone enclosures’ construction, was a dense primeval forest filled with animals that today can only be found in Ireland’s museums, including wolves, brown bears and boars. To clear this landscape for agriculture, let alone move the over a quarter of a million stones used for the enclosures, would have taken a great deal of cooperation from a sizable community. This society would also have to have had a source of food production independent of these new fields and independent of the population working on them.

No evidence has yet been found of any fortifications at the Céide Fields. This has prompted many into believing that this agrarian society lived peacefully without thought or threat of war. Although this is a tempting and agreeable hypothesis, it is argued from a position of lack of evidence rather than proof positive.

The Céide Fields’ society did not live in isolation. We know that the population participated in trade and therefore certainly had contact with various other peoples, as evidenced from a number of flint and Porcellanite (used for stone axes) finds from County Antrim in the north. It is certainly possible that their interaction with neighboring groups was completely peaceful, but it is unlikely. Just because defensive structures, such as protective walls (which would be larger and thicker than the farming walls) and tower foundations, have not been uncovered is not reason enough to presume that they do not exist. The Céide Fields is such an expansive site that these structures could lie undiscovered deep beneath the bog miles away.

What first enabled the bog to grow in this region is debatable. Some believe that it was a change in climate or high amount of rainfall that eroded the soil’s nutrients enabling the growth of bog-forming plants which require minimum sustenance and thrive in saturated conditions. Others feel it was the human impact on the forested environment that permitted the necessary conditions for the bog. It is likely that a combination of both climate and human intervention caused the optimal environment for the blanket bog to develop.

Although the origins of the bog are debated, it was certainly because of the bog that the Céide Fields became unsustainable. The fertility of the soil deteriorated, forcing the population to leave. It was a relatively slow decline, possibly occurring over centuries.

The lands around Ballycastle and to the east, along Killala Bay, were not affected by the rising bog, and it is likely that many of the Céide Fields’ inhabitants relocated not far from the area.

Today, the Céide Fields is much more than an archaeological site. In 1989, Dr. Seamus Caulfield and Professor Martin Downes began the project for the Céide Fields Visitor Centre. The Office of Public Works (OPW) of Ireland designed the award-winning center and it was opened in 1993. Interestingly, the Mayo 5,000, celebrating the 5,000 years of the Céide Fields existence and the center’s grand opening, featured a fledgling performer by the name of Michael Flatley. It was this festival that catapulted him into the spotlight and it was all because of the Céide Fields.

The center cuts an imposing outline rising as a pyramid from the landscape of the bog. The building is almost seamlessly built into the sensitive environment. According to the OPW, the building and all of its aspects are a “metaphor for the layers of history of man and the landscape in time, which is the subject matter of the exhibition.”

The architects stipulated the use of natural durable materials for its construction. The interior of the building is composed of oak, sandstone and glass, with the materials becoming lighter in color as one approaches the glass-peaked observation tower. The center blends so well into its landscape that when approached from a distance the building is easily mistaken as another summit in the nearby island grouping, the Stags of Broadhaven.

The center houses exhibits on not only the site’s human history but also its rich geological and botanical records. The focal point is the 4,300-year-old Scots Pine tree trunk that preserved by the bog.

The geology of the area adds to the site’s beauty. The Céide Cliffs (on which the Céide Fields rest) are over 300 million years old and rise up to 370 feet above sea level. These horizontal limestone and shale cliffs, although not quite as large as the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, are certainly as awe-inspiring with much less of a crowd.

The Céide Fields staff is impressive. I arrived in the midst of the winter holidays, the most inconvenient time of the year to be given a personal tour, as the visitor center is closed during this season. Gretta Byrne, a Céide Fields archaeologist, took time out of her holiday to brave the roads from Dublin and meet me there. It was Ms. Byrne who brought the Céide Fields’ history to life. She patiently answered all questions and was enthusiastic about the field’s archaeology and preservation.

At the Céide Fields, there is something of interest for everyone, be it history, botany, geology, award-winning architecture, or the center’s tearoom. It is a great experience in a wonderful setting.

And if you go in the summer there are beautiful wildflowers and I hear a bit of sunshine.

The Céide Fields is located 8km west of Ballycastle, Mayo. The site is open from mid-March to May 17, June 1 to September 18, and from October 1 to November 17. The price of admission is 3.50 euros for adults, 2.50 euros for seniors and groups and 1.25 for students and children. For more information contact the Céide Fields’ Visitor Centre:

Tel: 011 353 (0) 96 43325
Fax: 011 353 (0) 96 43261
Email: ceidefields@ealga.ie

Getting to the Fields
Getting to the Céide Fields has just gotten a whole lot easier with direct transatlantic flights to Ireland West Knock Airport now available. Flyglobespan (www.flyglobespan.com) airlines fly three times a week from New York and twice a week from Boston. Landing in the heart of Mayo means travelers will have plenty of time not only to explore the Céide Fields, just one hour away, but the many other archaeological gems in the area.

Ballyglass: Court-tomb
The court-tomb was built over the remains of a Neolithic rectangular timber house. It is over 27 meters long and has an elongated central court 12 meters long and 7 meters wide. It is located 1.2km from the town of Ballycastle.

Breastagh: Ogam Stone
This large, square-sectioned stone just
outside of Killala is more than likely a Bronze Age standing stone later adapted
for memorial inscription in Ogam.

Doonfeeny: Standing Stone and Fort
This monument located just northwest of Ballycastle is a fine example of a pre-Christian monument that was Christianized probably around the 12th century. From here fine views can be had of Doonbristy on which are the remains of a promontory fort.

For further information on archaeological sites of interest in Country Mayo, visit www.irishmegaliths.org.uk/mayo.htm

Places to Stay:
County Mayo, particularly the region around the Céide Fields, is home to innumerable Bed & Breakfasts. For more information see: www.ireland-bnb.com, www.irishbnb.com

If it’s a more upscale stay you’re looking for, try Stella Maris http://stellamarisireland.com/

Named Ireland’s 2006 “Hideaway of the Year,” Stella Maris was originally built as a British Coast Guard headquarters in 1853, and is now home to one of Ireland’s finest coastal hotels.

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The Prosecutor Goes to Dublin https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/the-prosecutor-goes-to-dublin/ https://irishamerica.com/2007/06/the-prosecutor-goes-to-dublin/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:54:01 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=10723 Read more..]]> Fresh from securing a conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby, Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald appeared in Dublin the day before St. Patrick’s Day to talk about international prosecution of crime.

“We used to think of prosecutions of conduct happening outside the United States as coming once in a blue moon, but I think we’re going to start seeing this a lot more frequently,” Fitzgerald told a gathering of 100 mostly American lawyers at a seminar at University College Dublin.

American prosecutors increasingly have to be aware of other countries’ laws, Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald’s office played a back-up role in the Irish government’s prosecution of Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, who was brought down by Chicago mole David Rupert.
New technology means that the duty to keep abreast of other countries’ laws is more important than ever, Fitzgerald said. A prosecutor trying to go after a child molester who puts footage of his actions on the Internet needs to be familiar with the laws of the country in which the transmission originates, he said.

When Fitzgerald went to Kenya in 1998 to investigate the bombing of the U.S. Embassy there, he and his team decided to follow both American and Kenyan law until they decided which country they would file charges in.

“If there were two ways of doing it, we would do it the harder way so it would stand up in court in either place,” he said.
That meant that instead of letting a witness sit behind a one-way mirror and point out a suspect from a lineup of six people, as U.S. law requires, witnesses had to come face-to-face with a lineup of nine people, then walk up and place their hand on the shoulder of the suspect they identified, as required under Kenyan law.

Kenya does not guarantee suspects the right to an attorney, and the New York judge who tried the case was not satisfied Fitzgerald’s team had satisfied their obligation under American law to inform the suspect of his right to an attorney and so dismissed some parts of the man’s confession.

But both suspects were convicted anyway. Fitzgerald has something of a dragon-slayer reputation, from being the one who drafted the indictment of Osama bin Ladin 10 years ago, to convicting former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and Mayor Richard M. Daley’s patronage chief Robert Sorich of corruption.

Fitzgerald stopped short of indicting President Bush’s deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, credited with being the mastermind of Bush’s two campaigns for the White House, in the Libby prosecution. Libby was convicted of lying about disclosing the CIA credentials of a wife of a man who criticized the war in Iraq.

More than 100 American and Irish lawyers and judges including former Irish Supreme Court Justice Hugh O’Flaherty and high court judge Vivian Lavin attended and spoke at the series of meetings at UCD and the Kings Inn over the weekend organized by the Chicago Bar Association, including many attorneys who practice in both countries. Many of the questions dealt with the division of labor between solicitors — who prepare cases — and barristers — who argue them in court. The division does not happen in the United States.
Chicago Bar Association President Kevin Durkin has traveled the world representing families of people who have been killed in airplane crashes as part of his job at the Clifford Law Offices.

“It’s essential that I understand the laws of different countries in representing my clients,” Durkin said.

To maintain their licenses to practice law in the state of Illinois, Fitzgerald and the judges must take 10 hours of “continuing legal education” every year. The seminar fulfilled six of those hours and allowed the attorneys to be in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, in many cases meeting up with cousins, as Fitzgerald did.

Fitzgerald was one of the 63 percent of American lawyers who took no international law class in law school.

“I thought that was for students who studied Spanish or French. When you’re from Brooklyn, you’re working on English as your first language,” he quipped.

After the seminar, Fitzgerald flew back to Chicago to watch as his deputies gave opening statements in the criminal trial of Lord Conrad Black, former owner of the Daily Telegraph in London, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and the National Post in Toronto.
Two days after Fitzgerald returned to Chicago from Dublin, news reports surfaced that one of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ deputies had ranked Fitzgerald among prosecutors who had “not distinguished themselves.” Fitzgerald refused to comment on the report, but one of his top deputies, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, said upon his retirement from the office a few days later that he was “disappointed” in Gonzales for not denouncing the dubious rating.

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