Easter Commemorations

It’s pretty shameful how long it has taken to write another post in this blog. I look back and think, how did I have time to write so much just a few years ago? I haven’t lost my passion for Irish history and I continue to visit every chance I get. I still devour every bit of history and culture that I can and I research and learn things all the time but I don’t seem to write about it as much. The idealism and romanticizing of Ireland that I was certainly guilty of at times has evolved into a more realistic, more moderate, and steadfast love of the country and its history. I don’t write about it much anymore and that’s what makes this morning unusual. I got up to go to the Easter Rising Commemoration here in the San Francisco Bay Area as I’ve done in the past, but instead of heading to the grave of a Fenian who was also a corrupt cop and a horrible racist, I am sitting here in the mood to burn bridges and actually writing again. I guess that’s because I find it hard to believe that in one of the most liberal areas in the entire United States, the annual Easter Rising commemoration honoring Ireland’s Patriot Dead is still at the gravesite of a revolutionary but terrible human, who had nothing in common with the leaders of the Rising except for their love of Ireland.

I’ve written about Thomas Desmond before, after the first time I went to the Bay Area commemoration. Back then I cared about fitting into the San Francisco Irish community somehow and my piece on the city’s awfully corrupt and horrendously racist sheriff was timid. It did speak some truth about the man, but I wrote it without calling out their choice of a hero. The Irish Proclamation espouses equality, socialism, and freedom – ideals that Thomas Desmond certainly did not practice in his every day life so many years and commemorations later I feel like it’s time to find a better option. San Francisco has a long history of Irish Republicanism and surely we can find another, less conservative and less controversial person to visit annually, while remembering the Rising. I know that many Fenian heroes and Republican soldiers are often complicated and not always great examples of the idealism that the Proclamation calls for, but in an area that is known for historically supporting the cause and for giving refuge to many immigrants, including the exiled Irish, there has to be a better option than an anti-immigrant, corrupt cop. In my humble opinion, it’s time to look for one.

Until that time, I’ll wear my Easter lily with pride here in the Bay Area and will continue to commemorate the men and women who fought for Irish freedom by learning and occasionally writing about them. For me, how we honor them and where we honor them matters, so Thomas Desmond’s grave is no longer an option for me. Instead, I’ll enjoy some Irish music at my local, tell everyone there who asks why I’m wearing a lily, and I’ll raise a glass or two to the Boys and Girls of the Old Brigade, who fought for a united and free Ireland so bravely during Easter week in 1916 and beyond.

Sad news out of San Francisco

San Francisco’s Bay Area has large Irish and Irish-American contingents and the city has always been seriously connected to Ireland. However, as the Bay Area prices continue to soar and it becomes the most expensive city to live in worldwide, these Irish communities have been pushed out like everyone else. A prime example of that migration came yesterday with the announcement that the bar and restaurant at the city’s United Irish Cultural Center would close in just three weeks.

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Robert Emmet Day

San Francisco does a lot to stay in touch with its Irish roots and Ireland in general. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in San Francisco is still one of the largest in the country and the Irish community in the Bay celebrates the parade even when it’s six months away. The “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” weekend party culminates in a gathering at Golden Gate Park in the heart of the city. This park event is also referred to as Robert Emmet day, because the festivities include laying a wreath at the base of his statue, located right in the middle of the park.

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Undocumented in the US

The Irish have always flocked to America’s shores for one reason or another. Some have argued that the Irish built America itself, despite its inherent distrust and discriminatory attitudes toward them. And just how did the U.S. repay them for their work? Not well. America treated the Irish horribly. There were anti-Irish riots. There were “No Irish” signs. The Irish people were used and abused for years but they kept coming and eventually they became part of the fabric of the country where many thrived. It’s safe to say that without them, the United States would be a very different place.

Today there are 34.5 million people in the U.S. who claim an Irish heritage, which is nearly 30 million more than the entire population of Ireland itself. This includes the few hundred thousand Irish-born people who currently live and/or work in America legally but it doesn’t count the estimated 10,000-50,000 Irish people who are not legally supposed to be in the country. These folks usually settle in so-called “Sanctuary cities” like New York, Boston, and San Francisco where there are large, established Irish communities and city law enforcement agencies that do not contact or cooperate with immigration officials unless absolutely necessary. It creates an illusion of safety but the pervasive threat of discovery is serious and it’s getting more dire every day.

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Thomas Desmond

It’s not unusual to find a few corrupt people in law enforcement across the world – in fact, it has become all too common. There have been countless examples of collusion and many abuses of power throughout the course of history on every continent and they continue to this day. It is more rare to find someone who went from being a very publicly seditious outlaw to the sheriff of one of the most well-known cities in the world. The first who comes to mind that fits that bill is Thomas Desmond.

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Easter Commemorations in the Bay

Easter is a lot of things to a lot of people, but to Irish Republicans it is a high holy day that has very little to do with religion. It is a day to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916, to mourn those who have been lost during the struggle for Irish freedom, and it is a reminder that the fight for a unified Ireland is unfinished.

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The Bay Goes Green

San Francisco has its faults – many of them in fact. The sky-high living expenses, lack of good public transportation, and rising eviction rates make living anywhere in the Bay Area a tricky, anxiety-inducing endeavor. Sometimes it is really hard to remember that it has its perks too – and one of those is the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Continue reading

International Women’s Day

Last year on International Women’s Day I was in Derry, exploring the murals that were off the beaten path. I found many honoring the women of the area – including one that was painted in honor of International Women’s day itself. I find that looking through my pictures of them now is just as inspiring as it was then, and I think sharing my favorites on both sides of the puddle is especially powerful on today of all days.

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Legends, music, and a sad farewell

This one is just for the locals here on the wrong side of the puddle in California. It’s rare that San Francisco gets good rebel music these days – in fact, it’s about to become even more rare. Sean Daly and the Shams are one of the only semi-local Irish rebel bands here and this Saturday night will be their last performance in the bay. They’re going out with a bang and playing with Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones for one night in San Francisco.

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San Francisco’s temporary Gaeltacht

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.

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