A tasty tidbit of appalling news came across my radar this week that has appeared to be somewhat ignored by many. It turns out that residents living in nine different tower blocks in Belfast had no expectation of privacy in their own homes and they didn’t know it. They were never informed that the police force of Northern Ireland (the PSNI) had been given keys to every single one of their flats and could ostensibly enter them whenever they liked. The Housing Executive was quick to say they’d handed over master keys to the PSNI so that they could be used for health or safety emergencies but they only revealed that agreement after some of the residents at the New Lodge Flats accidentally found out about the breach of privacy. The executive most likely would have never mentioned the keys and the police to any of their tenants if not for this accidental slip of the tongue.
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.
On Thursday, April 2nd, 1914, about one hundred women strolled into Wynn’s hotel in Dublin at four o’clock in the afternoon for the first of Cumann na mBan’s many meetings. The Irish Women’s Council had a lot to discuss but the one thing almost all the ladies present had in common was a devotion to Ireland and a desire to serve it.
It’s rare that a woman can juggle an immense amount of political power, a restaurant of her own and a family of four children. But Jennie Wyse Power did all this and more, at a time when most women weren’t even getting an education. She was an Irish superwoman and an unapologetic suffragist who passed away on this day in 1941.
It has been said that tourists – and mostly American tourists – are the only reason that Kilmainham Gaol is still open because most Irish couldn’t be bothered with it these days. My new friend who is now happily married here in the U.S. agrees with the travel books that say things like that because he and his generation seem to be sick to death of the glorious dead mentality and couldn’t care less about the history and the Troubles that have haunted the country since even before the Rising of 1916. In fact, he was shocked that we were still asked questions about our religion and last names on our travels to Ireland at the end of last year, both in the Republic and the North because he thought those kinds of things were finished.
However, when I did tour Kilmainham Gaol, I was in a group mostly made up of Irish people and all seemed just as profoundly affected by it as I was. Perhaps it was because of the off season which meant my group was thankfully smaller when we went through the infamous prison, or perhaps it was an anomaly altogether but I was glad for it. It made for a decidedly more intimate and more personal experience.
45 years ago the Nationalist people in the Bogside area of Derry began a legendary fight with the British authorities that is widely regarded as one of the first events of the Troubles in the North of Ireland. The violence, rioting and battle began on August 12th, 1969 and was ignited by an ill-conceived decision to allow the Apprentice Boys to parade near the Nationalist and Catholic areas of Derry.
The authorities saw no reason to stop the oppressive parade that had been happening annually for years. What made this year different than others though was the political climate, which they were not in the habit of paying attention to. The Civil Rights movement was gaining traction all over the North and had led to many skirmishes in Derry already that year. The level of dissatisfaction in the Catholic and Nationalist areas including the Bogside, was already palpable and growing stronger every day. In 1969, Catholics made up more of the population than any others but the Protestant Minority still held all the key positions in government and power so they had no recourse for injustices they faced. Many flooded into the civil rights movement in order to have a voice – and those voices were getting stronger and stronger, despite being ignored by the leadership of the city.
It was under this kind of tension that the parade was not only allowed to happen, but it was going to happen right in their faces. It was the spark that sent the Bogside over the edge. In the days leading up to the parade, many attempts were made within the area to keep residents calm and a request was sent to the Apprentice Boys and the government to either cancel or to reroute the march. The plea was refused and the attempts for calm became plans for defensive maneuvers.
100 years ago exactly, a large shipment of arms landed in Ireland. It took the actions of extraordinary women to accomplish the Howth Gun Running scheme of 1914. One, Alice Stopford Green, gave a loan to have the capital for negotiations. Two more, Molly Childers and Mary Spring Rice, raised the rest of the funds to purchase the weapons. They were transported on the Childer’s family yacht – The Asgard – and two of the women sailed proudly with them. This is not to say that they did it alone but without the actions of these women, this large landing of arms destined for the hands of the Irish Volunteers may never have happened. Continue reading