December 26 is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Legend has it that St. Stephen’s hiding place was betrayed by the chattering of a wren.For centuries, the feast day has been recalled in Ireland by the “Wren boys,” who dress in motley clothing, marching from house to house to collect money for a party for the whole town or village, and sometimes to support a charity.
Traditionally, they exacted their vengeance on the unfortunate bird by carrying a wren aloft on a stick—hunted down in the old days, but for years (mercifully) a toy bird.
One way to celebrate the day is by creating a colorful wren hat. Shannon Lambert-Ryan, with help from her eager assistant Liam de Barra, show you how in this video, a special edition of their Baking with Babies series. (Hint: It’s not just for babies!)
Ireland has a rich and often violent history, from the legendary exploits of Gráinne O’Malley, County Mayo’s infamous pirate queen to St. Patrick’s pilgrimage to the top of the rugged holy mountain Croagh Patrick, and from the Viking raids to their ignominious defeat by high king Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf.
Some of us know some of that history, but few of us know it as deeply and as comprehensively as Sean Murphy, a native Dubliner who came to the United States in 2005. If you want to know more, then he’s all too willing to share.
Starting November 5 and continuing for three Thursdays afterward, Murphy is hosting three Zoom-based, hour and a half-long evening classes, one on the history of County Mayo; the other tracing the history of the Viking incursions into Ireland from 795 to 1014 A.D. The cost for each class is $80.
Murphy, of Cape Cod, Mass., has a varied academic background. His initial degree was in science, math and physics, followed by a degree in world politics and philosophy. At a later stage, he took a degree in accounting. He was also involved in local politics in Dublin as a member of the Dublin City Development Board, helping to draw together strategic plans for Dublin City from 2002 to 2012.
Former President Bill Clinton described the late John Hume as “the Irish conflict’s Martin Luther King.”
A native of Derry, a founder of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and co-recipient with David Trimble of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, Hume is remembered as a determined driving force behind the Northern Ireland peace process, leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Hume died August 3. His contribution to the cause of peace in Northern Ireland will be commemorated October 22 in a Zoom-based event sponsored by St. Joseph’s University’s Irish Studies and the English Department. The presentation features a screening of “John Hume in America,” followed by a Q and A with the film’s director, Maurice Fitzpatrick, with an introductory lecture by Nicole McClure, Ph.D. of Kutztown University, “Visualizing Truth, Seeing Empathy: Documentary Films, the Troubles and the Peace Process.”
The first official event for the fledgling Irish Studies program, it was scheduled to take place in early April. Then the pandemic hit and the event was canceled, necessitating the move to online later on.
Twentieth century Irish history is marked by political turmoil, starting with the birth of the Republic right on through to the long, violent period known simply as “The Troubles.”
Throughout his years at Council Rock High School, Ryan Conner, a recent graduate of William & Mary, absorbed a good deal of United States and world history—but the island’s turbulent recent history never showed up in the high school curriculum. So now, he is writing the book he wishes he had been given to study.
The book has a tentative title, subject to change to something more user-friendly before publication—“One Man, One Vote: Northern Ireland’s Civil Rights Movement 1963 to 1972”—and it is currently undergoing additional research and revisions.
Conner’s book traces its origins to an initiative called the Book Creators Program, run through the Creator Institute, and overseen by a professor at Georgetown University. He learned about it from a friend.
“It’s a very, very popular program,” Conner says. “I started the program and the first five or six months were dedicated to doing the research and creating a roughly 25,000-word draft. In my case, that required getting the first draft done by mid-June, which I did successfully. One of the benefits of the program is that the professor has a relationship with a publishing house called New Degree Press. Assuming the authors meet their checkpoints and deadlines, produce enough words of quality material, and take the standard amount of time for revision and editing, then there’s a path to publishing (through New Degree).”
Above: William Brennan, left, and Sean McMenamin, point out some items of interest in the Irish Center’s library to Irish Ambassador Michael Collins.
Frank Hollingsworth, a board member of the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center, recalls a time when William Brennan was a guest at Villanova for a ceremony celebrating the digitization of the Commodore John Barry papers.
About 25 people were there, including the chairman of the board of Ireland’s County Wexford, Lori Dillard Rech, president of Independence Seaport Museum, and Villanova President Father Peter M. Donohue.
One by one, guests were invited up to the dais to give a brief talk about the historic event. When Brennan was asked to say a few words, Hollingsworth recalls, he stood up and offered these comments: “I think just about everything that can be said has been said. I don’t have anything additional.”
And then, Hollingsworth recalls with a chuckle, Brennan sat down.
Ironically, there was probably no one in the room who knew more about Barry than William “Billy” Brennan. His knowledge of Irish history, and in particular, the story of the Irish in Philadelphia, was encyclopedic, rivaling that of the late Dennis Clark. He was a keeper of the flame.
Brennan passed away July 28 at the age of 83.
In some ways, viewed from the standpoint of so many immigrant stories, this one is unremarkable.
Five sisters, all from the Galvin family, from a dairy farm in the little town Clounmacon, five miles outside Listowel, County Kerry, emigrated to the United States—Philadelphia, to be specific. They sought new lives in what likely seemed by comparison to their desperately poor homeland like the land of plenty.
The Galvin girls followed the usual practice: One sister moved to the U.S., saved her money, and sent for the next—and so on until they were all ensconced in Philadelphia, four of them working 10 hours a day, five hard days a week, in the Apex Hosiery Factory at 5th and Luzerne, the fifth a hairdresser.
But everything changed not long after Bridie Galvin moved to the city. A few weeks after her arrival, the Stock Market crashed. The oldest sister, Anna, had been investing—wisely, it seemed at the time—but after the crash, the sisters’ fortunes changed.
As with so many Irish immigrant stories, the details of the sisters’ lives from that challenging time weren’t discussed from one generation to the next.
Anakronos: Caitríona O’Leary, Deirdre O’Leary, Nick Roth, and Francesco Turrisi (photograph by Tara Slye)
It’s been almost 700 years since Kilkenny’s discordant 14th century Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, held sway over the souls of his parishioners, but 17 of his medieval poems are on track to reach the listening ears of a 21st century audience on the newly released CD, “The Red Book of Ossory.” And thanks to Caitriona O’Leary and the group Anakronos, what an innovative and exalted musical experience it has been transformed into.
But in order to wax properly eloquent on the newly released CD, there first needs to be some background on the origins of the Red Book of Ossory itself.
Richard de Ledrede was a man of massive contradictions. English-born, and a student of the Franciscan order, he was appointed Bishop of Ossory in 1317 by the Papal Court in Avignon. Immediately after his arrival in Kilkenny, he set about doing things his way, and his way meant a strict adherence to the Church laws and beliefs as he saw them. He set a high bar where morality was concerned and that included a moratorium on the singing of “bawdy” secular songs. He composed 60 poems that are included in the Red Book of Ossory (the original manuscript is housed at St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny) with the instructions: “for the vicars of the cathedral of the church, for the priests and for his clerks, to be sung on important holidays and at celebrations in order that their throats and mouths, consecrated to God, may not be polluted by songs which are lewd, secular and associated with revelry and since they are trained singers let them provide themselves with suitable tunes according to what these sets of words require.” Poetry that Caitriona O’ Leary describes as “beautiful, esoteric and richly imagistic.”
On the one hand, the Great Hunger in Ireland and the Dust Bowl in the United States would seem to have little in common. On the other hand, well … you’d be wrong.
True, The Great Hunger, or An Gorta Mór, in the 1840s—commonly known as the potato famine, but it was more complicated than that—resulted in the death by starvation of a million Irish people, and the emigration of a million more. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s, while incredibly tragic, resulted in the deaths of comparatively few—roughly 7,000—but also resulted in new migration patterns amounting in the tens of thousands of Americans, many of them to California, and unparalleled poverty.
But it’s not as simple as that, says Bill McCray, volunteer with a background in training and development and facilitator of a new two-week virtual Irish Diaspora Center study group called “The History of An Gorta Mór and the Dust Bowl.”
The group meets by Zoom Tuesday, July 28, at 7 p.m. and Tuesday, August 4, at 8:30 p.m.