The Irish Hunger Memorial stands on the edge of the Hudson River in New York City. It commemorates the journey that many thousands of Irish men, women, and children made to America while fleeing An Gorta Mór – Ireland’s Great Hunger. It is a stunning site that has seen its fair share of controversy and closures, but there’s finally some good news for New York’s little piece of Ireland.
Learning Irish is a struggle for me. I’ve tried many programs, and dutifully play with my Irish Rosetta Stone weekly but it is somewhat joyless and difficult without another Irish speaker to practice with. So when the advertisement for the 18th annual Irish Immersion weekend at the United Irish Cultural Center in San Francisco, California came across my radar, I planned on trying to find a way to attend.
This was not my first attempt but the Immersion’s price tag is a bit steep so I’ve never made it before….and probably wouldn’t have made it this time either except that my registration fee was a birthday gift from a dear friend I always go to Ireland with. Kathleen’s theory is that one of us needs to learn Irish in preparation for the inevitable day that we move to Ireland – and I thought I was pretty up to the task. I felt pretty confident about what I already knew when I walked in but I quickly learned that it is one thing to know some phrases or a lot of vocabulary and another altogether to be able to carry on a coherent conversation. I was even more intimidated when I realized that some of ár múinteoirí were prominent and well-known Irish speakers in Ireland, who bring the language to life every day.
Annette McGavigan was only eleven years old when the Troubles erupted in the North of Ireland. Her home was in Derry, one of the major flashpoints of the Troubles and a stronghold of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. She and the other children of the area witnessed more conflict than any child should within those first few years. She would have seen the British Army rolling into her city, bringing CS gas, rubber bullets, violence and protest with them. Riot after riot broke out and civil rights marches, anti-internment protests, and anti-police incidents were frequent and violent. These things probably became rather commonplace over the next few years for Annette and the other children who were growing up in areas like Creggan, Little Diamond, and the Bogside.
On Sept. 6th, 1971, when Annette was only fourteen, Catholic schools were closed in Derry. Teachers were taking part in a week-long anti-internment program. This left the schoolchildren with free time. Some joined the protests and riots and others stayed in. Once a small riot had ended on the edge of the Bogside, Annette and her friends went out to collect the leftovers of the violence. Children regularly gathered rubber bullets, gas canisters and more after each riot in Derry and this day off from school gave Annette the perfect opportunity to hunt for these dangerous souvenirs. As the young girl in a school uniform picked up an empty cartridge, a shot rang out. She likely never knew what hit her.
No matter where you are in Ireland, Dublin is not usually more than a few hours away. Yes, if you don’t have a car (and who can with those insurance rates?) it can be a hassle to get to, but nearly every region has some form of direct transportation in and out of Dublin. That’s important because I’m about to suggest that you take advantage of those routes and hightail it over to the city this weekend.
On June 30th, 1890 a horrible tragedy struck the O’Connor family in County Dublin. John O’Connor was a well-known journalist and Nationalist politician. He was the M.P. of West Wicklow and a family man who had a loving wife and five young children. This seemingly adoring family was torn apart when almost all of them were fatally poisoned. Only John O’Connor and one of his daughters survived.
I never get to quit talking about Moore Street. Hopefully one day that will change, but so far this has not been the case. These days backroom deals and crooked politicians are commonplace and a world-wide problem but one of the most egregious examples of that type of thing is the continuing battle over Moore Street in Dublin.
Well, you learn something new every day. Yesterday I attended a Bernie Sanders rally in Oakland, CA which was the very last place I thought I’d learn a new tidbit of Irish history but I was mistaken. One of the speakers had just returned from the North of Ireland. He butchered the pronunciation of Sinn Fein but he told the crowd that Bernie Sanders was one of the only politicians in the United States (and the world) who had taken the time to write an angry message directly to Margaret Thatcher in 1981.