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.
Ireland has a complicated relationship with religion. Many of its troubles in the last few hundred years are ultimately based in religious conflict and the church has ruled much of the island for centuries. But it wasn’t always so and some of its most-visited and well-known landmarks predate the Christian takeover of the island. Everywhere you go you can see signs of the old ways peeking through the hedges if you are looking for them. Many good Catholics will cross themselves or roll their eyes when they talk about the faeries but they also leave bowls of milk outside to appease them. You’ll still find iron in many doorways, though perhaps the reason it was placed there has been forgotten. As Samhain (more commonly known as Halloween) approaches, seasonal offerings left in fields, forts, tombs, and shrines increase all over Ireland. This time of year may not be the sanest time to go to the gateway to hell, but it certainly is the most appropriate one if you want to meet The Morríghan and her dark minions on one of the only nights they can escape the underworld.
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.