May June 2019 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Irish Power, U.S. Politics U.S. Rep. Richie Neal Talks to Niall O’Dowd https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/ways-means-congressman-richie-neal/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/ways-means-congressman-richie-neal/#comments Wed, 01 May 2019 07:59:21 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41861 Read more..]]> Richie Neal’s extraordinary journey from a working-class neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Washington, D.C., and one of the most powerful jobs in American politics as the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee.

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On November 7, 1960, Mary Garvey Neal, who had roots in Ventry, County Kerry, took her son to the Springfield, Massachusetts, town hall. It was very late and Richie Neal, then 10 years old, would never forget that evening.

He was there to witness one of the last campaign stops of Senator Jack Kennedy during the final frenetic days of the race against Richard Nixon for the presidency.

Inspired by the passion and fire he witnessed, Richie Neal decided there and then that he wanted to be a politician. It’s incredible to think, as he now sits atop the House Ways and Means Committee in one of the most powerful jobs in American politics, that the influence of Jack Kennedy still lives on.

Neal himself has a wonderful American story. He lost his mother to a heart attack in 1962 when he was just a young boy, and his father, a school custodian, died not long after. He and his sister were orphaned, raised by an aunt and grandmother. He remembers how they gave all the love they had, put him on the right track in life, and practiced good Catholic values.

Ulster University’s Magee Campus in Derry. Congressman Neal was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws for his outstanding contribution to peace and conflict resolution across the island of Ireland and for profiling Irish concerns throughout his congressional career. (Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

He was following his dream, too. He became councilman in Springfield, then mayor, and then at age 38, took the House seat of Ed Boland, his political mentor, in 1988.

He has held it easily since, often with no opposition, a reflection of his popularity back home.

His path to the leadership of Ways and Means was elongated, but thanks to a combination of retirement and defeat of those ahead of him, he arrived in January 2019 at the head of the most important committee in Congress.

Three future presidents – James Polk, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley – served as Ways and Means chairmen, while the very first occupant was Thomas Fitzsimons, a native of Ireland who also represented Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. His portrait, overlooking the committee room, was proudly pointed out by Neal.

Our interview took place in that same august setting of the Ways and Means Committee meeting room, passing through extremely tight security on the way.

As always, Neal was modest and relaxed. He is a worker bee letting others take the limelight – with the exception of one issue: his beloved Ireland and his justifiable pride in the American dimension to the Irish peace process. As head of the Friends of Ireland committee, he is an indispensable friend of Ireland and Irish America.

Of course, there is the little matter of the president’s tax returns, which it falls to Neal to seek. There is no grandstanding or cable news appearances or screaming demands for them, just a heads-down, get-the-facts manner. That is Neal’s way, and it has landed him at the top in American politics, wielding enormous power.

We began by discussing his amazing journey.

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When did politics first beckon?

When I saw Jack Kennedy the day before the election in 1960. He finished in three communities, Waterbury, Connecticut; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Boston, and if you’ve ever seen the film footage of him finishing in Springfield and Boston, as you might expect, he got a hero’s welcome. But seeing him that day – my mother was smart enough to keep us home from school – on the steps of Springfield City Hall, I remember that sense of inspiration and aspiration that I felt, the hope and ambition to do something.

Also, my family would have known Congressman Eddie Boland. My mother in particular always knew someone who was running for the register of deeds or the city council because that was the way up. And it was a great time of ascendancy in politics. There was a succession of mayors, six or seven in a row, whose parents or grandparents were Irish-born. The Democratic party in particular was the beneficiary [of the Irish]; they brought the right infusion of energy. And there was a great alliance between unions and the Democratic party.

From city councilman to one of the most powerful men in America: where did it all go right?

Part of it was ambition. I was thirty-eight when I first got elected to congress. I think I worked at least as hard, if not harder than everybody else. I had a good constituency that I inherited from Eddie Boland. He retired in 1988 and I took his seat.

I think I certainly was patient enough. I kind of made my way up, seat after seat, every two years. And I was lucky that I got a committee early on because the infrastructure in Massachusetts was pretty good. I came through a system where personal loyalty was a very important consideration. You had Joe Moakley [South Boston politician who was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Rules], Tip O’Neill was just leaving, Eddie Boland had just left and I took his seat and got on a committee very early in my career.

Congressman Neal on a visit to Stormont with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and former congressman Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) in 2008.

You came from a very humble background, a very tough one, because your mother and father both died when you were young. So how did you cope with that?

I was lucky to have an aunt and a grandmother. They were both great. And I also think it’s interesting that they were very Catholic. So we were never adopted. No social worker ever came to check on us. And the grandmother, she was one of fourteen, so I think her attitude was, “What’s another mouth at the table?” My aunt was devout. Remember those days they used to cover their heads when they went to Mass? We said the rosary at night.

There is much controversy right now as it relates to some of what happened in the Church, but for my aunt, grandmother, and my mother, the Church to them in those days was everything. It was an anchor.

Did you know you were poor?

Not really. It wasn’t exactly as though the neighborhood had a lot. My aunt had a pension, Mass Mutual. We had a little bit of life insurance that my father left, about $10,000. That was it. And we had the genius of Roosevelt’s social security survivor’s benefit. It was about $119 a month for each one of us. It wasn’t a lot, but we lived as a family.

How far back do your Irish roots go?

My paternal grandmother was born in County Down. On my mother’s side, her grandparents were born in West Kerry – Ventry. Irish was the first language for the West Kerry people. Springfield was the next parish over. You went where the others went before you, and they came here. In Holyoke, which is close by, they all came from Mayo. We were all from Kerry. And I think that they were very, very, proud of it. And it wasn’t as though they were going to Irish rallies or anything like that. But they knew of their traditions, they knew who they were and that they came from a pretty ancient culture that was comprised of great achievers. If you asked those people whereabouts they were from, they never said Ireland; they said they were from Kerry.

You first got involved in the North when you were a councilman.

The first time I got involved was in 1981 when Bobby Sands died [on hunger strike]. That’s when I took up a position because people in my community were pretty outraged. You know, those guys were dying on hunger strike, and Margaret Thatcher’s response was that they were criminals.

My first or second speech on the House floor after I got elected was on the use of rubber bullets [in Northern Ireland].

The first time I went to Ireland was around 1983; I went to visit relatives in County Down. In those days it was a militarized state. There were 30,000 British soldiers in an area the size of the state of Connecticut. You couldn’t go from street to street without being monitored. Helicopters circled no matter where you went. I was on a bus with Speaker of the House Tom Foley, and they boarded the bus. They had the big armaments and they had night vision – it was dark when we got on the bus – and they searched it.

When you look back at how the North and the Republic were colonized, and you look at the history, [you’ll see] that until the Rising, it was truly an argument about subjugation.

Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on a recent visit to Congressman Neal’s office.

You’ve been very involved in the Friends of Ireland Committee over the years.

Yes. I’m proud of the American role in the Good Friday Agreement. This is our agreement, too. We’re the backstop.

The British Embassy used to come up to the hill to meet with those of us in the [Congressional] Friends of Ireland. These were not pleasant meetings. But when the Good Friday Agreement came about, Tony Blair applauded us right here at the British Embassy. I remembered his quote all these years later. He said, “We’ve been great friends, America and the United Kingdom. We generally agreed on just about everything, but there was one issue we disagreed on: Ireland.” He said, “There was a time when I thought that the Friends of Ireland were a hindrance, but you helped us get through this.”

People forget that the Friends of Ireland was born of the purpose to try to compete with the money that was being used for gun-running. House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who founded it in 1981, said that the idea was just to kind of offer a competing vision. So now you can go and say that the Friends of Ireland position is “No Border.” You can have the Speaker of the House say, “I agree!” I think people have forgotten that.

The Good Friday Agreement was everything, because it was Belfast / Dublin, and institutions would be created that would be All-Ireland institutions.

I saw [the importance of] that after we just left Derry, where that young woman [Lyra McKee] was murdered recently. The idea that an Irish prime minister would go to the funerals…

1916 Garden of Remembrance at Forest Park in the city of Springfield, M.A.

And leaders of the D.U.P.

And sit next to each other. You know, there was a time when the Irish prime ministers didn’t go. The British prime minister didn’t go. And I think that the Good Friday Agreement and the elimination of the border was so important.

Did you visit the border on your recent trip?

Yes. On the trip over, I mentioned to Nancy Pelosi my concern that they would try to talk us into avoiding the border. And she said, “We are going to the border.” And she went, and stood there. She walked across it. And nobody was confused when she was done talking about American foreign policy in relation to Brexit, saying that Congress would block any new trade deal with the U.K. if Britain’s exit from the E.U. threatened the peace in Northern Ireland.

We were advised that if the North goes [leaves the U.K.], then Scotland will go. And our response was, “It’s self-determination.” The Good Friday Agreement says that there could be a referendum question [on a united Ireland], and the greater number will prevail.

At the right moment. In the local elections last week, Unionist parties went from 246 to 202.

You see what’s happening. But this has not been going on for two years. This has been going on for thirty-five to forty years. It’s demographic. Of the six counties, there [are] four now that have a nationalist majority.

The people who have been against Brexit [have] successful agrarian interests in the North. And the reason they are against it is because they like selling their products in the Republic of Ireland. In the heyday of Ulster, or the North, part of the argument that the unionists used was that they had a higher standard of living in the North than the people in the Republic – not true any more. And you look at the resiliency of the Irish economy, from where they were [to] where they are now. How it bounced back. I think that without that border, people in the North look at it and they say, “You know what, if there is a true departure now from the European Union, it’s not bad for us to be Irish citizens.”

Do you think you’ll see a united Ireland?

Yes. Vigorously so. Oh, yes. And I think part of it is that you’re going to be reminded who has been against Brexit.

Are you optimistic about peace talks?

Yes. I think it is going to be born of necessity. If you are on the unionist side, it’s time to make the best deal you can. If you are on the nationalist side, you have to not do to the unionists what was done to you.

Do you still think they need an American envoy?

An honest broker is needed. I think that one of the problems we have had is that we thought there was going to be a successor to George Mitchell. It’s not going to happen. There’s only one Mitchell. Not only that: you look at how strong Blair was at the time. He really put something into it. And Bill Clinton really put something into it. Sometimes you need the strong men and the strong women to make the deal. The Irish government, during those years, was in favor of propping up SDLP. And the British government was in favor of propping up the D.U.P. And when the deal became inevitable, the toughest people made the deal [the nationalists and the loyalists].

Congressman Neal and former president Bill Clinton.

How did you get on with Brexiteer Rees-Mogg?

I am surprised to hear that sort of talk in this day and age.  The world has moved on, by decades. He clings to the notion of “empire.” There are those who make this argument for a return to a different time, I mean, if you remember when Roosevelt and Churchill were a great collaboration, World War II, and how America was destined to make the difference. Roosevelt pointed out that this was about advancing democracy, supporting our allies, but not a return to empire. He pointed out that we’re not going back to that.

There’s a group in London, England, who ran in a local election on a no-Brexit platform and won 704 seats. It’s the same in Britain, if the Labor party leader would only realize it, but he won’t take the chance.

When we met Jeremy Corbyn, he seemed to agree with everything we said about Ireland and the border. But whether or not he’s strong enough to do something about it, we’ll have to see.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meeting with Congressman Neal in Washington, D.C., in March 2019.

Let me ask you about the current day. What surprised you about the job, now that you have it?

Trying to manage a lot of the personalities is not easy. I always felt very comfortable on the policy stuff; I was smart enough to pay attention over the years. And I like reading long pieces about it, and hearing what everybody has to say, but boy, managing the strong personalities. I think that our job is to educate the public, not to entertain them. I think entertainment has seeped into politics; there’s this kind of, “I got to get out there,” before thinking through what you want to say, and I just resist that.

You’re in the ring with Trump, how are you doing?

The reality is, he won. And I think that we can have plenty of sharp disagreements, but I’m hopeful that even in this incendiary atmosphere, we can find some common ground on a handful of issues. We need to find an agreement on infrastructure, and we’ve got a big issue coming up with the multipayer pension plans in the Midwest.

There’s not too many other Democrats talking like that. It seems to be lines in the sand.

Yes. But I also have a different responsibility as chairman of this committee. We have to deal with taxes, trade, tariffs, Social Security, Medicare, management of the public debt, pensions, and welfare. I don’t have the luxury of not trying to fix these pension plans. They’ve got to get fixed.

You have great expertise in financial matters.

I paid a lot of attention to it over the years. I understand why the Fed should be independent, and not have the president’s acolytes being appointed.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Ambassador Dan Mulhall, and other Irish government representatives meet with Congressman Neal in his Washington, D.C., office in March. (Photo: Marty Katz.)

So what do you think of Trump as an individual?

I don’t know him well enough, but I think that in the age of theater, he’s an actor. I think that he probably enjoys this. I also think that this didn’t just happen – that we’ve been coursing through this for years. I think more entertainment has seeped into the political arena. It’s all instant opinion. There’s no deep breath, there’s no stepping back. There’s a lot of talking, and a lot less listening. And I think that the country has a lot of serious challenges in front of it. And I would like to think that some of this could calm for a period of time to get some of these big things done. Before you know it, by the time you get to the fall, we’re a year out from another presidential election. We’re exhausted from the last one, because it’s gone on.

Who do you like on the Democratic side?

I’m going to wait and see. I’ve got friends all over, with the job I’ve got. I think that we need to nominate the most electable Democrat. So that’s the bottom line.

The problem we have today is that we’ve now seen two elections where we’ve won the popular vote and lost the presidency. It is scary, and I think that part of this is that we need a mainstream Democrat.

So in terms of the tax returns, will you get them?

I don’t think that they’re going to be voluntarily turned over.

How far will all this go? Will it eventually go to the Supreme Court?

It could.

But even the Supreme Court surely can’t rule in his favor.

Well, I think that the law is very clear on this. It says, “Shall furnish, upon request,” and there is no sense, on my part, of malevolence here. There are eight successive presidents over forty years that have voluntarily released their forms. All the way back to Richard Nixon, they asked that their forms be reviewed. I don’t understand why, after the president said during the course of the campaign that he was going to voluntarily give up the forms, and then he said he was under audit. Now the IRS commissioner says, “It doesn’t make a difference; you can release the forms anyway.” But we’ve been very careful in preparing a court case. That’s why you don’t see me doing the bombast, and you don’t see me running to the cable shows. The House counsel has said to me, “You’ve got to be careful how you do this. You can’t do the shows, because you’re the petitioner in the court case, so you’re likely to be a witness.”

I was watching FOX News last night. The guy said you should be allowed to view them, but not take them away.

Well, that’s what actually happened with Richard Nixon and Joint Tax. You would have professionals review these. It’s not like you would have, you know, just the Ways and Means members, so I think that the answer, should we be successful, is the Joint Tax Committee, which is made up of attorneys, tax attorneys, accountants, and economists­. I think that that would be a good sounding board.

What do you think he is hiding?

I don’t know what he’s hiding. I think that the idea that he wouldn’t submit to the same sort of test that the others have had is the challenge. The challenge is that I don’t even start with a malicious intent. My attitude is: let’s just take a look at the forms; we’re interested in seeing how the IRS conducts an audit. That’s the legal basis of the request. I think that that’s fair.

Congressman Neal at the border in Northern Ireland in April 2019. (Photo: William Tranghese)

Do you think Trump will make it through his presidency without impeachment?

I think Speaker Pelosi would rather have an election than an impeachment. I think she’s right. You also have a presidential election now that’s, what, sixteen to seventeen months away? I was here during the Clinton impeachment and opinions shifted pretty vigorously on that. People forget, when Clinton left, two-thirds of the American people approved of the job that he had done. I was pretty impressed, because I was a big supporter. Be careful what you wish for. The other thing: be careful, only because you had in the Clinton case – you had the prosecutor, you had the press, you had the Republicans, and you had Clinton, and the people said,

“Of the four, we’ll take Clinton.” I mean, you’re known by your opponents sometimes. And the people that were involved in that at the time, they totally miscalculated, and I think [that’s why] Speaker Pelosi would rather have an election than an impeachment.

Hypothetical: President Warren calls on the phone and says, “I want you as ambassador to Ireland.”

As opposed to the Ways and Means chairmanship? I’ll stick with the Ways and Means chairmanship. Speaker Pelosi said to me when we were over there, “Did you ever think of running for one of those national offices?” Then she caught herself and she said, “Being chair of the Ways and Means Committee is better, isn’t it?” And I said, “Yes, it is.”  ♦ Niall O’Dowd

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First Word: A True Friend of Ireland https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/first-word-a-true-friend-of-ireland/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/first-word-a-true-friend-of-ireland/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:58:30 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41889 Read more..]]> My first home in America was in the Bronx, a basement apartment on Briggs Avenue off Fordham Road. It was a happy time. We were a revelry of young Irish immigrants caught up in the glorious freedom of having shed parents and small towns and farms for apartments and subway trains that we took down into the city to work as waitresses and bartenders. At the end of the day we’d meet up in the Bunratty or Durty Nelly’s on Kingsbridge Road, young women waiting for our men to finish their 4-12 shift in the Water Tunnel Construction Project. They mostly ignored us when they showed up, talking over our heads to each other about manly things like “the headings” being flooded. We didn’t mind. They were our heroes doing dangerous work hundreds of feet underground, so we cut them some slack. On Sundays we’d go to Gaelic Park on 240th Street, a scrappy piece of ground under the stewardship of John O’Donnell, always known as John “Kerry,” for the place of his birth. We’d sit in the stands watching our boys play hurling and football, and moan about the Irish-American girls (the Narrowbacks), who came over from Queens to compete with us for their attention. In the bar after the games, we’d dance to live music that would now be classed as Country & Western; to us it was just the music we had grown up with.

Those glory days would be over too soon. The city went broke in 1975, the water tunnel project was put on hold, and almost overnight our men left en masse to work on the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. I moved downtown, and then to San Francisco, and back to New York to start the magazine in the mid-1980s. I would never live in the Bronx again, but it left its imprint on my heart. And two stories in this issue, Peter Quinn’s beautiful recollection of the Bronx of his childhood, and Tom Deignan’s piece on All Hallows High School, filled me with nostalgia for that time and place.

While I was enjoying the liberating freedom of being young in New York, dark clouds were gathering in Northern Ireland. Just months before I left for America, in 1972, the British Army shot 28 unarmed civilians, killing 13, during a protest march against internment without trial. (Read Rosemary Rogers’ piece on Dolours Price in this issue, it will break your heart).

Sometimes you have to leave a country to really see it for what it is. The discrimination that was happening to Catholics in the North was largely ignored in the part of Ireland I grew up in. Here it was a different story. Irish Americans were more concerned than the Irish back home, and more ready to do something about it, which brings me to our cover story.

Richie Neal, the U.S. congressman from Springfield, Massachusetts, was just a young councilman when he first became involved with Northern Ireland. It was 1981, during the Hunger Strikes. “They were just letting them die,” he tells Niall O’Dowd in this interview, and he had to try and do something to bring American weight to bear on the British governmnt. He went on to lobby for the MacBride Principles, the set of fair employment practices that became a corporate code of conduct for U.S. companies doing business in Northern Ireland, and he helped pass them into law. And, as the co-chairman of the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus, he played a central role in passing the Good Friday Agreement. Now, at a time when tensions are rising in North over the possibility of a hard border being reinstated, we turn once again to Richie Neal for help. As the newly appointed chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee, he will play a key role in overseeing any future trade agreement between Britain and the United States after Britain leaves the European Union. And as he has already shown with his recent trip to Northern Ireland with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he’ll be there for us, as he always has been.

There is no truer friend of Ireland.

 

Mórtas Cine. ♦

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Arrests in Death of Journalist https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/arrests-in-death-of-journalist/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/arrests-in-death-of-journalist/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:57:51 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41946 Read more..]]> Police investigating the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry have arrested four people under terrorism legislation.

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The four males – aged 15, 18, 38, and 51 – were arrested in the city on Wednesday morning, May 8, in connection with the killing.

The suspects have been taken to the Serious Crime Suite at Musgrave PSNI Station in Belfast, where they are being questioned by detectives.

Ms. McKee, 29, was shot dead while observing riots in Derry’s Creggan estate area on Thursday, April 18. The New IRA, a dissident paramilitary group opposed to Northern Ireland’s peace process, says its members killed her by accident when firing at police.

Lyra McKee, who was killed while observing a riot in Derry.

The senior officer leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Jason Murphy, said: “As part of this morning’s operation detectives carried out searches at four houses in the city and arrested four people in connection with the violence which was orchestrated on the streets of Creggan on the evening of Lyra McKee’s murder.

“They are currently in custody, where they are being questioned.

“I want to thank the public for the widespread support we have received to date, including more than 140 people who have provided images, footage and other details via our dedicated Major Incident Public Portal.”

McKee’s death united people and politicians in shock and grief.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and political leaders from all the Northern parties were in attendance in St. Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast for her funeral service on April 24.

– Aidan Lonergan / The Irish Post / May 9, 2019  ♦

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Malahide Casino Returns https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/malahide-casino-returns/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/malahide-casino-returns/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:56:44 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41892 Read more..]]> The repair and conservation of the Malahide Casino building is nearing its completion. A historic 18th-century cottage orné, the building had been vacant for a number of years and had fallen into disrepair. Construction began on the restoration and redevelopment in April 2018, and the beautifully restored thatched roof is now visible to the public.

In addition to the roof, internal repairs, and upgrading of services, the conservation of the Cyril Fry Model Railway is underway, and is being installed in its new permanent home in the casino building. The Railway is a working miniature railroad display, initially constructed in the 1920s-1930s and developed and modernized to become the largest model railway collection in Europe. The casino has been a Malahide landmark for over 200 years. The restoration project was funded by Michael Gaffney, a local farmer who was active in the community. Gaffney died in 2013 at age 90, leaving more than €17 million in his will. The casino is one of many projects he funded.

“I am delighted to see the refurbishment of this much-loved building,” said mayor of Fingal Anthony Lavin. “Over the years, the people of Malahide have watched anxiously as it fell into disrepair and it is thanks to Michael Gaffney for his generous donation and Fingal County Council that we were able to conserve this unique and magnificent landmark.” ♦ Maggie Holland

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World War II “Eire” Landmark Restored https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/world-war-ii-eire-landmark-restored/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/world-war-ii-eire-landmark-restored/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:55:08 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41954 Read more..]]> historic Irish Second World War coastal landmark has been painstakingly restored by volunteers in Dublin. For six months, a team of up to 35 volunteers met on Hawk Cliff in Dalkey, Dublin, and worked tirelessly to restore a picturesque sign displaying the word “Eire” in giant white letters.

One of 80 signs built along the Irish coastline during the conflict, the signs were designed to warn Allied and German pilots alike that they were flying over neutral territory.

The sign was uncovered by members of the Dalkey Tidy Towns Committee. With the help of a committed group of volunteers they were able to clear up the site, lifting and cleaning up to 100 tons of stone before laying weed killer on the site. The stones were then returned to the site, restoring an incredible part of Irish history in the process.

Now fully restored and set alongside the number seven, the sign is one of five still visible from the air.

A similar sign in Bray was restored by another group of volunteers.

– Jack Beresford / The Irish Post / May 9, 2019  ♦

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U.K. and Ireland Agree Common Travel Area https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/u-k-and-ireland-agree-common-travel-area/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/u-k-and-ireland-agree-common-travel-area/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:54:31 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41958 Read more..]]> The governments of Britain and Ireland have agreed on a deal to preserve the Common Travel Area (CTA) shared by the two countries after Brexit.

The Memorandum of Understanding guarantees the continuation of reciprocal rights enjoyed by British and Irish citizens under the CTA, which dates back to 1922.

Those rights include the free movement of people between Britain and Ireland, but also access to social security, healthcare, and education.

Irish citizens also have the right to vote in U.K. general elections and hold office there, while these privileges are reciprocated for the estimated 30,000 Brits living in Ireland.

The provisions of the CTA do not, however, relate to goods or customs issues – a sticking point of the ongoing Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and European Union.

The agreement comes after more than two years of negotiations between London and Dublin to ensure that even if Britain leaves the E.U. without a Brexit deal, citizens will continue to enjoy their current reciprocal rights and privileges.

The two governments have agreed to maintain existing arrangements on social insurance, child benefits and pensions and they are working on new arrangements to ensure that British and Irish citizens will continue to have equal access to public health and education services in both countries.

– Aidan Lonergan / The Irish Post / May 8, 2019  ♦

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Seamus Heaney’s 80th Birthday Celebration https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/seamus-heaneys-80th-birthday-celebration/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/seamus-heaneys-80th-birthday-celebration/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:53:13 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41906 Read more..]]> World-renowned artists gathered in Bellaghy, Northern Ireland, on Saturday, April 13, for “In New Light: An Occasion to Mark What Would Have Been Seamus Heaney’s 80th Birthday.” It was held at the Seamus Heaney Home Place, a literary center celebrating the life and literature of the Nobel Laureate, who passed away in 2013.

One of the artists in attendance was acclaimed Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, who presented the U.K. and Ireland premiere of “Anything Can Happen,” a classical choral piece he composed centered around three of Seamus Heaney’s poems. It was performed by the internationally acclaimed Codetta Choir, featuring Milena Simovik on viola.

Glenn Patterson, director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queens University, introduced the evening. Producer, arranger, and musician Neil Martin opened the celebration with a musical performance, followed by Northern Ireland actors Bríd Brennan and Adrian Dunbar conducting intimate readings of Seamus Heaney’s most beloved poems.

The audience reaction was very positive. “I came home from the Home Place last night feeling that we had witnessed the performance of a lifetime,” said Jim Holland. “Saturday’s concert was superb. It was a very fitting celebration of Seamus Heaney’s birthday. You could tell from the buzz afterwards that everyone felt the same,” said Maura Johnston.

In other Heaney news, the BBC announced in early April that a feature-length film exploring the life and legacy of the poet is in the works. A release date is still to be announced. ♦ Maggie Holland

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Great Irish Song Stamps https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/great-irish-song-stamps/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/great-irish-song-stamps/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:52:00 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41910 Read more..]]> U2 and The Cranberries are among notable Irish musicians featured on a new set of stamps celebrating great Irish songs.

The Cranberries’ global smash hit “Dreams” is included along with U2’s “With or Without You,” “Danny Boy” by John McCormack, and “On Raglan Road” by Luke Kelly.

Each of the songs have been chosen by An Post (the Irish postal administration) because of the way they celebrate Irish identity and culture.

An Post will present the songs featured on the stamps in a special live performance in the GPO, curated by Other Voices. The songs will be performed by an array of Irish musical and vocal talent including John Sheahan, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, the Glass House String Quartet, Declan O’Rourke, Wyvern Lingo, Jack O’Rourke, May Kay Geraghty, and the Discovery Gospel Choir.

“The set of four stamps underscore the richness of Irish musical heritage, the songs’ origins ranging from 17th-century musical airs to rock music, poetry, and folk ballads,” Debbie Byrne from An Post Retail said. “The stamps are a celebration of creativity and of the power of song to tell important human stories, which are at once Irish and universal.

“We know these beautiful stamps will be popular with fans of music all over the world.”

The Great Irish Songs stamps are available at Irish post offices nationwide and online at irishstamps.ie. A limited edition souvenir box set of the stamps is also available at the same site or at Dublin’s GPO, Philatelic Bureau.  ♦

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McAllister Can Stay for Now! https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/mcallister-can-stay-for-now/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/mcallister-can-stay-for-now/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:51:32 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41964 Read more..]]> At the request of many prominent politicians, including senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay Graham, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan has intervened to postpone the deportation of former Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) member Malachy McAllister

McAllister, 59, was jailed for seven years for attacks on Royal Ulster Constabulary officers during the 1981 hunger strikes. He did not participate in any further paramilitary activity after  being released in 1985. After a loyalist gun attack on his home in Belfast in 1988, he fled to the United States and now runs two businesses: a construction company in New Jersey and an Irish pub in Manhattan.

Although he sought asylum in 1996, McAllister’s application has been repeatedly denied by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, which still classifies his previous activity as “terrorist” in nature, despite the U.S.’s strong support for the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland’s peace process

McAleenan has made a decision “in accordance with standing policy” to put a stay on the deportation for a further six months for the purpose of allowing the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham, and other members of Congress to pass a private bill allowing McAllister to remain in the United States, where he has lived for decades. He and his late wife have several children and grandchildren.

“Despite being a prima facie example of the greatness of the American dream as a land of second opportunities, the McAllister family continues to live their lives in one-year, and recently six-month, intervals,” the Ancient Order of Hibernians said in a statement, continuing, “Let Malachy McAllister and his family enjoy the peace and security that America has symbolized for generations of immigrants.”  ♦

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Kerrygold Sales Exceed €1 Billion https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/kerrygold-sales-exceed-e1-billion/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/kerrygold-sales-exceed-e1-billion/#respond Wed, 01 May 2019 07:50:51 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41973 Read more..]]> Global sales of Kerrygold butter and dairy products have exceeded €1 billion in revenue per year, a first for an Irish food company.

The Irish Dairy Board – now Ornua – owns the internationally recognized Kerrygold brand, which is the number one brand in Germany, the now number-two butter brand in the United States, behind Land O’Lakes, and enjoys leading market share positions in many of its export markets. Pilgrims Choice – the number two cheese brand in the U.K. – is also one of their brands.

An Bord Bainne, a semi-state organization, was established by the Irish Government in 1961 “to promote and facilitate the exportation of milk and milk products from grass-fed cows.” In 1973, it became a limited cooperative – the Irish Dairy Board. On March 31, 2015, the board transformed its corporate identity from the Irish Dairy Board to Ornua, the name of which comes from the Irish ór nua, meaning “new gold.”

The company has grown immensely in the decades since its founding, with over 7.5 million packets of butter now being sold worldwide each week, but the recipe itself has not changed at all; it retains the same distinct, rich flavor.

Róisín Hennerty, Ornua’s foods managing director, said, “While Kerrygold holds a unique place in the hearts of the Irish people, we are especially proud that the brand has captured the hearts and imagination of consumers all over the world.”  ♦

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