TWU President John Samuelsen meeting Harry Connolly, West Belfast Tourism and Paul Maskey MP for West Belfast on a visit to the site of the James Connolly museum and interpretive centre on the Falls Road in Belfast.
It's probably an urban myth that Baltimore comes from the Irish, Baile an Tí Mhóir, or perhaps I only think that because it caused some surprise when I dropped that nugget of information before my gracious hosts from the Irish Railroad Workers Museum in that great city last Sunday.
Whatever the truth, it's a fact that Baltimore boasts a proud Irish heritage and an active cadre of community champions moulding that history to meet contemporary challenges. And while the Irish Railroad Workers Museum is indeed the pride and joy of the Baltimore Irish it also represents a project of national importance for Irish America and Ireland. Indeed, in telling the story of the Feeley family who arrived in Baltimore fleeing hunger and oppression in the bleak year of 1849, it is also telling an immigrant tale which resonates in America 2018. The restored alley-street homes housing this treasure represent the only urban original house museum in the US.
The commitment and passion of the Irish Railroad Workers Museum committee is legend. They have brought back to life the story of James and Sarah Feeley — who still have descendants in the region — and been true in their telling to the oft-cruel realities of their era. Slave pens were located just a few blocks from the Feeley home while free blacks lived just doors away.
Purchased for a modest $20,000 in 1997, the two homes in Lemmon Street which make up the museum have enjoyed renovations costing over ten times that amount — and yet even more ambitious plans for a $500,000 transformation over the next five years are on the cards.
Michael Mellett, an equity trader by profession and proud Hibernian, exhibited a little bit of the Feeley derring-do himself by setting up home beside the Museum — despite the fact that it's in a troubled part of Baltimore — when he returned from Co Down after a four-year sojourn. "My family, and almost everyone who'd seen The Wire, said, 'don't move into West Baltimore," he says. "But then some people said the same thing when I moved to Warrenpoint. In truth, this is an area in which you have to be careful but the violence is largely related to drugs and targeted amongst gangs. When I came back to the US in 2007, I missed Ireland but discovering the Museum gave me a real purpose and mission and when I moved into the neighbourhood, Judge Ward who had founded the museum project, asked me to be Committee President."
The harsh reality of gun crime came home to Michael and his wife Kathy Kelly, a Museum docent, when 19-year-old John Brown, who grew up just down the block from the Museum was shot dead close to their home in April. "It was really tragic to see a kid we knew growing up, who we would have thrown a ball to and seen pop in and out of the museum, lose his live in such a pointless way," says Michael. A police poster taped to a lamppost outside the couple's home stands as eulogy for the dead teenager — and a searing commentary on the cheapness of life in inner-city America.
Yet there is reason for hope. New University of Maryland buildings have sprung up in the 'hood and the Irish Railway Workers Museum is bringing visitors to a street usually well-off the tourist track - even though it's no more than a mile from the glittering Baltimore harbour and within viewing distance of the impressive B & O Railroad Museum.
"The urban history revival in this area is inspirational," adds Michael. "The history here is so rich that the residents should stick out their chest and be proud."
As, indeed, should Michael and his colleagues who are serving in the best traditions of the Irish: preserving and promoting their own heritage while leading change in the heart of a community often enduring the same type of rejection which faced the Feeleys.
Michael Mellett, Kathy Kelly, Kathleen Reinholdt and Dan Layden outside The Shrine and Irish Railroad Workers Museum.
I had taken the scenic route to Baltimore — via Philadelphia where I was addressing the inaugural Irish Small Business-Big Impact 50 awards at the Union League on 18 May alongside Philly Mayor Jim Kenney (who had as it happens quite a lot to say on the subject of immigration). Irish American Business Chamber and Network Chairman Emeritus Bill McLaughlin had pioneered this Irish Echo-Philadelphia partnership which almost came unstuck on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge linking New Jersey and Pennsylvania. For, on approaching the bridge, I hit a pothole which blew a front tyre on my rental car.
A wiser driver would have stopped immediately but I took my chances by attempting a Flintstone-style bumpy ride on three wheels over the busiest bridge into the City of Brotherly Love. If you were one of the thousand cars behind me on that 5 MPH trek across the Benny-Frank, my sincere apologies!
Date for your diaries for all those who love New York and Belfast: The ninth annual New York-New Belfast Conference is scheduled for the Big Apple on 7-8 June. New York City Council's recently-elected Irish American Speaker Corey Johnson will join a high-powered roster of speakers at an event which builds bridges of mutual benefit between these two great cities.
Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle ONeill and Sinn Fein representative Rita O'Hare read historical documents relating to Constance Markievicz and other Irish women revolutionaries at the American Irish Historical Society on Wednesday May 15th.
Torrential rain and storms did not deter an audience of about 50 coming to hear Michelle talk about women in Irish politics, focusing on her own experience.
The event was organized to mark the 150th anniversary of Markievicz’ birth by event director Sophie Colgan and Society chair Brian McCabe.
Fiachra and Emmet McGuinness with Terry OSullivan ,Governor of California Jerry Brown and Rob Hunter ,President California Building Trades
Sinn Fein TDS Caoimhghin O’Caolain and Martin Kenny with Senator George Mitchell at the Senator George Mitchell Peace Bridge on Sunday April 8th. A ceremony to mark the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Agreement was organised by Church groups from Cavan and Fermanagh at the bridge.
The bridge links Cavan and Fermanagh and was opened in 1999. Senator Mitchell last visited the bridge in 1998 when he laid one of the beams. It was named after him to acknowledge his work in the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD addressed a meeting of Friends of Sinn Féin in New York today. At the event she paid tribute to the former President of Friends of Sinn Féin, General Jim Cullen, who passed away in December last year.
Deputy McDonald outlined a vision and pathway to achieve a new and united Ireland. She invited those who support Irish Unity to continue to work, to lobby and to campaign for unity and made clear Brexit cannot be allowed to impose a hard border across Ireland.
During her address, Mary Lou McDonald TD said,
“Ireland is changing. The challenge for us, for this generation of Republicans, is how we shape that change, how we build a new and united Ireland.
"An Ireland of prosperity and opportunity. An Ireland of equal rights in which everyone has a place. An Ireland that provides jobs, homes and healthcare for its citizens.
"An Ireland where everyone has a place in society and a chance to succeed. An Ireland where it is about what you do, and not about who you know.
"An Ireland where the politics of the past, the nod and wink politics of the past, remains in the past. Where there is transparency and openness in government, where decision making is clear and free from any suspicion of undue pressure. An Ireland that can hold its head high as an equal on the world stage.
"That is our task. That is our job as republicans and supporters of unity.
"The support of Irish America is crucial to this task. As it has always been the case. The Fenian movement crossed the Atlantic.
"The Rising was only made possible with the support of the Ireland's exiled children. Their contribution writ large in the proclamation. They embraced the cause of civil rights and were central to the peace process.
"There wouldn't have been a Good Friday Agreement without American support and without Irish American support in particular.
"But our work is not done. We have many challenges to face, not least from Brexit. Let me be clear there should not be any border in Ireland and there cannot be any hardening of the border following Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.
"I ask you to continue your support as we work towards a new and united Ireland.”
Mary Lou McDonald TD will make her first visit to the US as President of Sinn Féin next week to attend St Patrick’s day events.
She will be accompanied by Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O’Neill, and former party President Gerry Adams at events in New York and Washington.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Mary Lou McDonald TD said;
“This is a very challenging time for Ireland with the DUP collapse of the talks process in the North and the potential of Brexit to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, our economy and the rights of citizens.
"Over the years, US administrations and Irish America have played a crucial role in developing the peace process and bringing about the Good Friday Agreement.
"The progress that we have experienced to date needs to be maintained and I believe that the US continues to play a crucial and positive role in that process.
"I look forward to my first visit to the USA as President of Sinn Féin and meeting with, lawmakers, members of the administration and leaders in Irish America on these issues and the growing campaign for Irish Unity.”
The delegation will brief the Congressional Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill, speak at a meeting hosted by Labour leader Terry O’Sullivan and attend a celebration of the 20thAnniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the St Patrick’s day celebrations.
In New York they will meet with supporters and friends at a gathering in the Sheraton in Manhattan hosted by Friends of Sinn Féin, attend Mayor de Blasio’s St Patrick’s Day breakfast before joining the James Connolly Irish American Labor Coalition before the Parade.
Friends of Sinn Fein USA regret the passing of FOSF President James P (Jim) Cullen.
Jim became President of Friends of Sinn Fein in 2012, ably carrying on the work of support for Sinn Fein and the cause of Irish Unity.
A former General in the United States Army he became a human rights lawyer, respected for the integrity he brought to all aspects of his work.
He saw for himself the subjugation of the nationalist people of the north by British forces during a visit to Ireland in 1969 and was determined that the truth about what was happening was heard in America.
He brought his considerable skills to that task through his pro bono work in many of the prominent cases being prosecuted against Irish Republicans here.
Jim Cullen loved Ireland and his origins in Offaly. He will be buried there according to his wishes.
Our deepest sympathy to his partner Catherine and to his family.
"Such an emotionally charged response is politically inept. It means negotiations are bound to fail because there’s no rational response coming from the DUP. Remember Foster’s incredibly ill-judged outburst a couple of years ago when as Acting First Minister she presented herself as gatekeeper to block ‘rogues and renegades’, that is Sinn Féin and SDLP ministers, from getting anything through the executive? Breathtaking. There you had the DUP’s position laid bare: ‘Them uns are getting nothing.' And so it proved.”
Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Seventy is a good number to start with. A LucidTalk poll conducted about ten days ago showed that nearly 70 per cent of Sinn Féin voters supported the party’s position of not entering an executive until there’s agreement on Acht na Gaeilge [Irish Language Act].
Here’s another seventy. In this year’s assembly elections 70 per cent of Nationalist voters voted Sinn Féin. In June’s British general election 71 per cent of Nationalist voters voted Sinn Féin.
Now you can draw a number of conclusions from those figures. First, Gerry Adams is correct. Sinn Féin won’t return to a Stormont executive without Acht na Gaeilge for the simple reason that they can’t. Their voters would be disgusted. Once you get up around the 70 per cent mark in a poll you know there’s no turning back. LucidTalk has a good polling record but even if they hadn’t that size of percentage is conclusive, overwhelming.
Second, let’s look at those other 70 per cent and 71 per cent figures from the elections. To read and listen to a lot of coverage North and South you would think Sinn Féin is a strange disembodied entity separate from society and normal discourse. When 71 per cent of Nationalist voters in The North vote for the party the fact is that the opposite is the case.
Sinn Féin is an integral part of Nationalist society. Get over it. So when people in the Unionist press and media castigate Sinn Féin for their opinions and policies in reality it’s the vast majority of the Nationalist community they’re castigating.
This fact obviously hasn’t penetrated the tiny particle of political brain Arlene Foster demonstrates in interviews. In every interview of a substantial length she gives, she suffers an acute attack of foot in mouth disease and loses the run of herself.
She is apparently unable to accept that Sinn Féin are articulating the views of the vast majority of Northern Nationalists. Instead, she regards the party as a bogeyman, to borrow the words of Wolfe Tone, ‘the never failing source of all our political evils’. Her views are almost as outlandish as Micheál Martin’s who’s just as horrified by the electoral threat Sinn Féin presents him.
That’s evident from her recent car crash interview about Sinn Féin’s motive being to “humiliate Unionists and those who believe in the British way of life.” Apart from the fact that she couldn’t define “the British way of life" ——how’s it different from the Scottish or Welsh way? —that sort of accusation exposes at least two flaws. The more glaring is that she has no rational argument to present to oppose Acht na Gaeilge so she frantically clutches at straws; the second is that she doesn’t take the Sinn Féin demand as genuine and respond politically rather than emotionally or sentimentally. For Foster everything Sinn Féin proposes is part of a fiendishly contrived plot at once devious, impossible to understand and impossible therefore to concede.
Such an emotionally charged response is politically inept. It means negotiations are bound to fail because there’s no rational response coming from the DUP. Remember Foster’s incredibly ill-judged outburst a couple of years ago when as Acting First Minister she presented herself as gatekeeper to block ‘rogues and renegades’, that is Sinn Féin and SDLP ministers, from getting anything through the executive? Breathtaking. There you had the DUP’s position laid bare: “Them uns are getting nothing.” And so it proved.
The consequences of that dismissive and fearful emotional response to Nationalists are now obvious. Foster has been so successful at convincing her own supporters of the malign, ulterior intent of Sinn Féin that 86 per cent of DUP voters say she must not concede Acht na Gaeilge, not because it may or may not have any political merit but because it’s a plot, conspiracy, scheme to humiliate Unionists. How can she go back on that any more than Sinn Féin can withdraw their demand?
In short Foster has blurted out so much emotionally charged language that she has led Unionists into a cul de sac. There’s no way out because she can only offer Sinn Féin less than they’re prepared or able to accept. You’d think she might take the long view that it’s 2022 before another Assembly election is due but no, the evidence is she doesn’t think politically