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.
In Ireland’s County Donegal, only 12 percent of the businesses supported by the county Local Enterprise Office (LEO) are led by women.
That, says Brenda Hegarty, assistant head of enterprise for LEO, is common not just throughout Donegal and Ireland, but worldwide. Her organization, together with NDRC, formerly the National Digital Research Centre, is trying to increase that percentage—not just within Donegal, but throughout the worldwide Donegal diaspora.
They’re doing so through a program called “Ambition,” a new pre-accelerator program focusing on early-stage female entrepreneurs, with a suitably ambitious goal.
Closed since March due to the pandemic, the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center faced an uphill struggle. On the one hand, the Irish Center, as it is more commonly called, stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. On the other, board members still had to meet monthly expenses for the rambling old building at Carpenter and Emlen Streets in Mount Airy.
The disruption couldn’t have come at a worse time. Fortunately, many of the center’s friends have come to the rescue.
This year was going to be a big one for the center, which had recently been granted 501c3 nonprofit status and had many old debts cleared up. The center makes most of its income from events, like wedding receptions, festivals, banquets and concerts. For 2020, the calendar was jam-packed with paying events—so much so that there was a waiting list.
“We were on such a good high from all the hard work that had been put into the Irish Center over the last number of years,” says board member and vice president Lisa Maloney. “We were getting on a profitable, albeit not a huge margin. We had some cushion in the bank because we had had so many shows (prior to the shutdown). We had some money saved by. All the hard work was paying off because we were booking events. We had solid schedules. The board was feeling good because were on a good plane … and then everyone got hit with it (the Covid pandemic).”
Above: chocolates from Marlene’s Chocolate Haven in Westport, County Mayo
Suppose for a moment that you are an Irish ex-pat living in Delaware County. Your mom and dad and all your other relatives and friends still live in Ireland. Because of coronavirus travel restrictions, you aren’t able to make it back home for a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding—or just your annual visit.
For all too many, it’s a heartbreak. Nothing completely makes up for that, but now you can let all those folks back home know you’re thinking of them—and you can help Irish businesses survive the pandemic as well.
It’s called the Ireland E-Commerce Diaspora Directory, put together by the Philadelphia-based consulting firm Littus—Latin for “seashore.”
“Littus is a company that developed out of work that I’d been doing in our accounting firm Maguire Hegarty, and another chap, Rob Rae, had been doing with his company, Columbus Business Partners,” says Paul Maguire, managing director of Littus. “The idea was to work with Irish companies that were looking to enter the U.S. marketplace. Our target companies are small- and medium-sized enterprises that we can provide ground coverage for in the United States. So we decided to formalize our informal arrangement into this company, Littus.”
This was supposed to be the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center’s big year.
The Mount Airy-based center makes most of its money from hosting events—from ceili dances and Irish language courses to big banquets and wedding receptions that typically fill the center’s spacious ballroom to capacity. For 2020, the calendar was so crowded with paying events, there was a waiting list.
And then in mid-March the pandemic hit, and the center had to close.
“In January, we were preparing the budget. We were booked solid the entire year,” says Center board member and vice president Lisa Maloney. “This has been years in the making. We really thought we were on a positive plane. We had a lot of different events coming in, and we were very excited—and then Covid came in. We now have no income coming in at all. We don’t have big expenditures, but we do have the monthly costs of running the building.”
Irish dancers and musicians will have no trouble remembering Muriel Prickitt, who passed away at age 87 on June 7 at Samaritan Hospice in Voorhees, N.J ., following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. She was simply everywhere and had a hand in virtually everything relating to Irish music and dance.
An exquisite set dancer and legendarily fast accordion player, this force of nature was known by all. She is mourned—and celebrated—by friends and relations almost past counting.
One of those who honors her memory is Gerry Buckley, of Ardagh in County Limerick, Ireland. Buckley was a founding member of the Delaware Valley chapter of Irish music, dance and cultural organization Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. In 1989, the newly wed Gerry and wife Fiona moved to Voorhees, N.J., where they met Muriel Prickitt through the set dance community.
“My wife was a set dancer before she moved over,” Buckley recalls. “She was looking for someplace where she could go set dancing, and she met Muriel and (Prickitt’s companion) Tom Quinn. I forget where they actually met, but they got to talking and Muriel mentioned that she was going for set dance lessons in Jenkintown. She said, ‘Why don’t you come along?’ and that was it.”
I don’t think it’s overstating things to assert that the pursuit of genealogy has been revolutionized over the past two decades. I first started delving into my family history in the mid 1990s, when a friend brought me with her to the Mercer Museum’s Spruance Library, where the Bucks County Historical Society maintained their archives.
Armed with a notebook and several sharpened pencils, I spent an afternoon immersed in dusty old published family histories and census records that involved searching indexes and battling a microfilm reader. It was glorious. And also daunting.
Fast forward about 10 years, and I was still visiting historical societies and courthouses whenever I got the chance, but I was also blissfully accessing census records at 3 a.m. from the comfort of my home via my computer and courtesy of Ancestry.com. No longer was I limited by an archive’s hours or the soundex version of a census index. I learned how to become creative in my keyword searches, and to work around the names of ancestors being mistranscribed.
These days, as I continue researching not just my own ancestors but also the families of other people, I utilize every online resource I can find. Some of them, like FamilySearch and Irish Genealogy, are free and invaluable. Others, such as Ancestry and Newspapers are subscription databases that I find equally invaluable and worth the price.
Kersti Powell, left
When Kersti Tarien Powell, D.Phil., an assistant professor in the English department at Saint Joseph’s University, first proposed a minor in Irish Studies back in the fall, some people wondered aloud: Don’t we already have one?
The answer at the time was no, but, she says, there was broad agreement: “Of course we should have Irish Studies.”
Powell formally submitted her proposal in January. Then, she says, it went to different governing bodies at the Catholic university on City Line, including the College of Arts and Sciences and the University Council. She got the go-ahead in February. “It was approved at every stage,” she says. “So that was really nice.”
Now comes the tricky part.
Under normal circumstances, Powell explains, a student would express an interest in adding or changing a major or a minor and fill out and sign a paper form. But these are not normal times. As with most universities and colleges, the coronavirus pandemic has forced changes in Saint Joe’s academic way of life.
“Since classes went online in March, in a couple of weeks, the university had to develop new means to deal with students who want to sign up for majors or change their major or sign up for new minors,” Powell says. “So now we have an online portal where they can do that.” As soon as the portal went live, the first couple of students signed up for the Irish Studies minor. “I was able to approve them and that was very exciting. We were literally starting to recruit students as the pandemic hit. It was an amazing thing to see happening.”