Living in California has its pros and cons. The weather is great but the strong Irish communities here don’t get as much love as they do in New York or Boston. It’s rare that the West Coast gets concerts, political visits, or films out of Ireland but that’s not to say that we don’t seek them out. We do have fairs, film festivals, and other events throughout the year but to see current news and films, we often have to trick the location sensors in our internet browsers so we can scour the internet for hours on end until we find an article, a link, or a video. That determination is how I’ve been lucky enough to see many fine Irish films, despite their lack of distribution in the states. This list now includes “No Stone Unturned,” a riveting and super important documentary by Alex Gibney about the brutal, “unsolved” murders of six people in a Loughinisland, County Down pub during the 1994 World Cup.
Operation Motorman was the code name given to a mission carried out by the British Army in the North of Ireland on July 31st, 1972. The goal was to forcibly reassert control over the Nationalist and Republican areas where they were not welcome with a particular focus in the cities of Derry and Belfast. In these cities, nearly impenetrable barricades had been erected in many neighborhoods barring any soldiers from entering or policing the communities. When the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated more than twenty bombs in Belfast on July 21st of that year, the English government decided that the “No-go” areas in these towns would no longer be tolerated and Operation Motorman was born.
He was brash and tenacious. He was often obnoxious and nearly always a drunk. He was a brilliant writer, but in his words he was “more importantly, a reader.” He was a cocky, yet humble adventurer who was opinionated but always seemed ready to be wrong or surprised. Anthony Bourdain was not Irish but he had a gift of gab and a way with words that put him on par with many of the great Irish writers that he was inspired by. He was touched by Ireland on his first trip there and on his last he wrote “Heaven looks like this” in the guestbook at the Gravedigger pub.
Patsy O’Hara was a survivor. He grew up in Derry during some of the city’s most violent years and he was hit by a soldier’s bullet at the tender age of fourteen. He lived through that ordeal and became a fighter devoted to freeing Ireland from English rule. Patsy had a keen sense of what he thought was right and a huge streak of Irish Republicanism. This combination led him straight into the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a militant Irish Republican group that was dedicated to forcing the English out of Ireland by any means necessary. It also eventually led him into the H-Blocks of Long Kesh Prison where he died on this day in 1981 while on hunger strike.
On this day in 1916, Ireland’s Easter Rising began. All throughout Dublin men and women made their way to strategic outposts in the city with the hope that they could take them and last long enough for Ireland to be declared an independent nation. They were intent on overthrowing the English control of their homeland and went out with only that purpose in mind. Most other people had no idea of what was to come and they got up in the morning and headed to work as usual, unaware of how different their city was about to be.
Mary O’Dwyer (née Breen) was not a typical Irish Republican woman. She did not have the support of a politically powerful family, in fact they actively discouraged her from joining any political group. She defied them, her parish priest, and others when she began canvassing in County Tipperary for Sinn Fein at age sixteen. Two years later, Mary joined (and eventually commanded) her local branch of Cumann na mBan.
Ireland is steeped in mythology and tales of faeries but these fae have nothing in common with the adorable little Disney-created pixies that flit across the movie screen. Irish faeries have a dark side and many folks still attempt to appease them to this day. You can still find bowls of milk outside certain homes on certain days and many locals who stay away from nearby hills, caves, and mounds. They warn wayward travelers to do the same. Some have iron in their doorways or other superstitious markings to protect against dark creatures of a different world. In the past these beliefs were even more prevalent and tales of changelings and other mischievous things in the night were simply a part of life. These stories also became part of a highly publicized murder after a young woman named Bridget Cleary was burned to death by her husband, her father, and others, on this day in 1895.
Stephen O’Donohoe was a poor law clerk in Dublin. He was a family man with four children who struggled to get ahead but only barely managed to scrape by. Like many, he blamed the English rule in Ireland for his woes. He was one of thousands of men who joined the Fenian Brotherhood, a group dedicated to overthrowing the government and getting the English out of his country.
Thomas Farrell was from Williamstown and was a confectioner by trade. He joined the Fenian Brotherhood as well, and while it’s not clear if these two men knew each other, what is certain is that they are now tied together for all of eternity.
Many of Ireland’s brave sons and daughters had to leave Ireland for one reason or another. One of those daughters was Katherine “Katie” Gilnagh who was just seventeen years old when her sister sent for her to come to the United States. She caused a bit of a stir before she left home by having her palm read. The astute (or gifted) fortune-teller told Katie that she’d be crossing water soon and that there’d be a lot of danger, but that no lasting harm would come to her. Soon after the reading, Miss Gilnagh left her family in Cloonnee, Co. Longford and boarded the RMS Titanic as a third-class passenger, bound for America.
Many of Ireland’s great Fenians scattered to the wind to avoid prison when their various uprisings failed. More than few of them ended up on America’s shores and promptly set about creating organizations that furthered the Irish cause within the United States. One of those powerful men was John O’Mahony, the founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.