Thursday, December 6, 2018

How could the Irish forget their own history?



Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018


A mock border post to remind people of the consequences of
a 'no-deal' Brexit


How can we learn from history if we never even studied it in the first place?

How can we understand where we are today without reference points which will help us to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past?

With Brexit and the rise of populism, old animosities, mistrusts, and misunderstandings have risen again. And some people have shown an astounding ignorance of the troubled history between Ireland and its nearest neighbour.

Just over a year ago, Irish people were shocked by the reaction of TV viewers in the United Kingdom who showed that they really did not have a clue about the devastation the British Empire caused in Ireland.

British TV viewers jammed switchboards, and took to Twitter, to express dismay at the depiction of starving Irish people during the Great Famine. A period drama called ‘Victoria’, beamed into their sitting rooms on a Sunday night, was the first they ever heard of a disaster which claimed a million Irish lives and saw another two million emigrate to North America.

Many British TV viewers had never heard
of the Famine which took a million Irish lives

They were horrified to hear the Great Famine described as “the judgement of God” and an "effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” by the British civil servant whose job was to provide relief to the starving Irish.

Irish people need no introduction to the callousness of Lord Charles Trevelyan, because we teach our children history and he’s immortalised through the words of sports anthem ‘The Fields of Athenry’.



As hundreds of thousands died of starvation, Trevelyan persuaded the British Government to do nothing to halt mass evictions. As corn left the Irish ports for the ‘mainland’, he preferred to leave the fate of the dying peasants to the free market.

Most people in Britain had never heard of him, because Irish history is not taught in British schools.

And, just to prove that history can repeat itself, Tory MP Priti Patel said this week that warnings of food shortages in Ireland should have been seized upon by the British. She said her Government should been more firm, to force the Irish to drop the 'backstop' which has caused so much controversy during the Brexit debate in Britain.

She sees the possibility of food shortages in Ireland, a smaller country with a much more open economy than Britain's, as an opportunity for our former colonisers.

Such wilful - or deliberate - ignorance.

But let's not forget there are huge concerns that the same level of ignorance could spread to the Irish, as it is planned to remove History as a core subject in our secondary schools.

By making History optional, is it possible that Irish children will not even learn about the horror of the Great Famine and the impact it had on the psyche of our people?

In generations to come, could be we become as ignorant of our past as many people in the UK?

Here’s a few other things our young people need to be mindful of, while arrogant Tory Brexiteers are so quick dismiss concerns over a ‘hard’ Irish border and a potential return to ‘The Troubles’: 


The decline of the Irish language since 1800. Source: Reddit.com


Why don’t we speak Irish anymore? 

Imagine an Irish child growing up without any awareness of the Penal Laws and the impact they had on our native language and culture. Would they even question why we speak English and why Irish is largely confined to the remote western fringes of our island? Would they know about the ‘hedge’ schools which sprung up when Catholic people did not have a vote and their own language was banned from schools in Ireland?

Would they learn that the number of Irish speakers fell from four million in 1841 to just 680,000 in 1891? This shocking decline was all part of the process of colonisation. People were taught to mock and taunt native speakers, to see them as backwards, and they forget that hundreds of thousands of the impoverished Irish who landed on the east coast of America did not even speak English until they arrived in New York or Boston.


A mural in West Belfast recalls the fight for Irish freedom
Photo by Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller


Why is Ireland partitioned? 

It is almost hilarious to hear Unionists and British Tories proclaiming that the UK could never be divided, given that the partition of Ireland in 1922 led to a bloody Civil War and has led to bitter divides on both sides of the border to this day. Ask anyone in Derry or Tyrone if they are “less Irish” than people in Galway, and yet many of them faced discrimination in a sectarian state for decades.

Thankfully, the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998 brought an end to decades of conflict and discrimination against the Catholic minority. How could any Irish teenager understand the divisions which run through the island without some knowledge of 1609 and the Plantation of Ulster? 

The arrival of planters from Scotland and England changed the face, culture, and language of the northern province. The descendants of those settlers still consider themselves to be British today and the GFA respects that.

The Great Famine: an appalling period in Irish history


What ‘terrible beauty’ was born? 

The Easter Rising of 1916 was just one of a long litany of heroic failures as generations of Irish people struggled to break free of the British Empire. It was also seen as a stab in the back of the Empire, given that thousands upon thousands of Irish men were fighting on the same side as the British in World War One at the time.

It’s important to remember that the Irish rebels who rose up against their colonisers had little support from the ordinary people of Dublin in 1916. The city centre was destroyed and people were angry at the destruction. They abused the rebels as they were being taken away by their British captors.

But the execution of ten rebel leaders at Kilmainham Gaol showed ordinary Irish people the ruthlessness of the British justice system. They rose up against the colonisers. The rebels may have failed in the short-term, but, in the words of poet W.B. Yeats, a “terrible beauty” was born.


A cheeky depiction of modern Ireland


Who were the Black and Tans?

In 1919, Irish nationalists began a violent campaign against the British forces but, unlike three years earlier, they used guerrilla tactics such as ambushes and assassinations. Instead of taking over city centres, they would attack and disappear.  With the republican leaders such as Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera, who later fought against each other in a bloody Civil War, in hiding, the British decided to send in reinforcements.

The hated Black and Tans became known for their violence and vengeance, sometimes against innocent civilians, throughout the island. In 1920, they opened fire on the crowd at a football match in Croke Park, in what became known as the first Bloody Sunday. The gunfire was in response to Irish terrorist attacks. In one day, 32 people were killed, including 13 members of the British forces, 16 Irish civilians and three Irish republican prisoners. 

Without any knowledge of history, people would not understand what a monumental event it was when the Irish rugby team hosted England at Croke Park in 2007. The respectful silence during ‘God Save The Queen’ showed that time really can heal old divisions and animosities. Respect can grow from a knowledge of our shared history.

Bloody Sunday: scarred the city of Derry and
boosted recruitment for the IRA


What caused ‘The Troubles’

After partition, Northern Ireland – which stayed part of the UK – became a “Protestant Sate for a Protestant people” and the Catholic minority, who made up a third of the population, found it difficult if not impossible to get a house or a job. The province was made up of six of the nine counties in Ulster and partition was introduced to maintain this “artificial” Unionist majority.

Strangely enough, the wider availability of televisions in the 1960s played a huge part in bringing about change. Catholics in Northern Ireland saw images of African-Americans marching for Civil Rights in the United States and felt that they, too, were entitled to be treated as equals.

Heavy-handed policing turned their peaceful protests into riots and led to the British Army being deployed onto the streets in 1969. One particularly appalling atrocity, when soldiers fired on peaceful protesters in Derry, killing 14, became known as the second Bloody Sunday. 

The horror inflicted on civilians boosted recruitment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and prolonged the conflict for decades. It’s impossible to understand ‘The Troubles’ without understanding the atrocities and humiliations which alienated and angered the nationalist people of Northern Ireland.


Our fragile peace has vastly improved
life across Ireland over the past 20 years.


Why is the Good Friday Agreement so important? 

In 1998, there were celebrations all across Ireland when people on both sides of the border voted in favour of a hard-won peace agreement. People were sick of violence and the old tribal hatreds. The document guaranteed that Northern Ireland would stay part of the UK as long as the majority wanted to do so, but it also gave the Republic some say in the governing of the North and guaranteed  equal rights for the minority.

It brought an end to three decades of violence and, indeed, centuries of tribal hatreds. Anyone who understands Irish history recognises what a monumental agreement this was and how appalling it is to hear anyone talk about a return to a hard border and our ancient divisions.

Thankfully, the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, announced this week that he is set to review the decision to remove History as a compulsory subject in Irish schools.

If we don’t study History in our schools, the Irish too might come to forget how much progress we have made in turning conflict into peace and animosity into a shared sense of respect between our two islands.

Faced with such an uncertain future, the more we know about (and understand) the past, the better.

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com.

Blogger for hire! Did you know that I also blog for businesses and charities. Send an email to ciaran@ciarantierney.com to see if you can avail of the services of an award-winning Irish blogger! 



Friday, November 30, 2018

An open letter to a West of Ireland Senator

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018 





An Irish flag flying in occupied Palestine



Dear Senator O'Mahony,

I would consider you to be one of my sporting heroes. The wonderful, dignified way you went about delivering two All-Ireland football titles to Galway in 1998 and 2001 left a lasting impression with me and were among the highlights of my 22 year career in provincial journalism.

I am writing to say how saddened I was to see you and members of your party, Fine Gael, sit in the Seanad this week to oppose a bill which will give huge hope to people living under an appalling occupation. I come from a "Fine Gael family" and I am truly appalled by the party's stance on Senator Frances Black's Occupied Territories Bill.

How would Michael Collins have voted on Wednesday night?

You are something of a hero in the GAA (especially West of Ireland GAA), an organisation which knows more than a thing or two about oppression, colonisation, and the brutality of an occupying army.

When the British Army murdered 14 people and injured 60 during a football game in Croke Park in 1920, the GAA and the people of Ireland really could have done with international solidarity and support.

I remember a famous photo which went viral all over the world when your Galway team were All-Ireland champions. It showed your team, the champions, playing Armagh next to a British Army base, where helicopters were taking off and landing, in a National Football League game in South Armagh.

The GAA has a long and noble history of standing up to oppression.

I am astounded that your party, Fine Gael, sees no merit in a former colony leading the way for the rest of the world by banning goods from 'settlements' which have been built on land which was colonised illegally in 1967.

The people of the West Bank have lived under a brutal occupation for 51 years, which is more than all of my lifetime, and they are in desperate need of hope. Ireland can give them some hope.


Members of the Al-Helal football team in Kinvara in 2016,
Photo: John Kelly, The Clare Champion.


I have travelled extensively in the Middle East and I believe a monstrous injustice has been caused to the people of Palestine. I'm also aware that they look up to Ireland and the Irish, due to our own struggle against colonisation.

It seems clear to me now that the people of Palestine will not get any solidarity from Irish politicians who are more concerned about cozying up to our European and American 'masters' than standing up for human rights.

We seem to have forgotten where we came from.

Your party's line about the European Union leading the way on foreign policy doesn't wash. The West Bank settlements are illegal according to international law. Buying goods from them, on land which has been stolen from the people of Palestine, should be a 'no brainer' in a former colony like Ireland.

This bill is not a full boycott of Israel and Israeli goods. It's merely calling on the Irish Government to uphold international law. I believe that Fine Gael is now on the wrong side of history, just as those who opposed the Dunnes Stores strikers in 1981 were proved to be wrong after their actions helped lead to the collapse of the appalling Apartheid regime.

The Seanad voted 30-13 in favour of the bill on Wednesday,
despite opposition from the Fine Gael party


Nelson Mandela sought out and thanked those women years later when he came to Dublin. I can't see a future Nelson Mandela of Palestine wanting to have anything to do with Simon Coveney and the members of Fine Gael if he or she comes to visit Ireland.

Yes, my interest in this is personal. This summer, I helped to raise €4,350 during a night out in Galway to bring a Gaza football team to Ireland. Those little underage boys, crying out for hope, were not even allowed out of Gaza, due to the appalling siege imposed on them by the Governments of Israel and Egypt.

I was so inspired by the joy on the young boys’ faces when they came to Galway in 2016 and 2017.

It felt so embarrassing to have to tell the people of Galway, who gave their money so generously, that we could not do anything for the young footballers of the Al-Helal Academy for another year.

Those kids so badly need the kind of experiences they get from playing in places like Kinvara and escaping the stifling atmosphere of Gaza for even a few days.

I know journalists who have been shot at by Israeli soldiers just for filming their actions. I know a wonderful human rights lawyer who has been branded a terrorist for chronicling the crimes which have been committed against the people of his village.

I know people who have had raw sewage thrown down on their villages by 'settlers' who should not even be living beyond the 1967 borders.

In the refugee camps of Jordan, years ago, I met people who still have the keys for their homes – even though they haven’t been able to go home in decades.

And I'm sickened when Simon Coveney, who I believe to be a good man, tells me and other Irish people that we cannot lead the way on this by taking a principled stand.

Asking Senators to support the Occupied Territories Bill in Galway


Last Saturday, a small group of us organised a stall in Shop Street in Galway. Over the course of five hours, almost 600 people signed postcards calling on Senators in our region to support the Occupied Territories Bill. Every one of them thanked us, warmly, for standing in solidarity with the Palestinians on a cold November Saturday.

Two weeks earlier, more than a hundred people turned up in a Galway hotel to support Senator Black and her bill.

It was amazing to see how many Galway people related so much to this issue, perhaps due to our own island's troubled history. it's not as though Palestine is as directly relevant to them as issues such as homelessness and the housing crisis.

I believe the people who thanked us in Galway city centre last Saturday showed how out of touch Fine Gael are with ordinary people when it comes to human rights.

Here in the West of Ireland, people really do understand.

But it seems that the Fine Gael party members in this part of Ireland have forgotten their roots. They see no parallels at all between Oliver Cromwell and ‘To Hell Or To Connacht’ and the mass forced migration of Palestinians into the tiny strip of land called Gaza.

And I believe that Senator Frances Black has shown great courage in the face of hostile international pressure by moving this bill.

It’s not always easy to stand up for what you believe is right, especially when the might and the power are on the other side.


Collecting signatures to support the Occupied Territories Bill in Galway


So I guess I'm just writing this to express how disappointed I am by both you and your party, due to your decision to oppose a bill which would actually give huge hope to a people who are crying out for hope.

If only others had given some hope to the Irish throughout the 19th century. It's so easy to dismiss gestures such as Senator Black's and to forget that the Irish have a huge place in the world.

We inspire Palestinians precisely because we were once a colonised people ourselves.

After 51 years of being occupied and having their land stolen, the people of Palestine need more meaningful gestures than our Government deflecting the issue to the European Union.

What was the point of our own noble and often fruitless struggle for independence if we don't have the courage to take our true place in the world?

Are we so willing to sell our souls because it’s more “convenient” than standing up for human rights?

Thank you for reading.


* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com.





Friday, November 23, 2018

Signs of hope by the seaside in Salthill




Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018 


Coming together to highlight extincition rebellion in Galway



I live in a city which is choking to death because of a lack of imagination, because so many people rely so much on the car. They feel they have no choice.

I see it every day.

The cycle lanes blocked by motorists who cannot imagine that they should even have to share the roads with people who opt to cycle or walk to school in the mornings.

I have seen a road along my daily commute being redesigned over the past year, because so many parents were literally parking up right outside the front door of a primary school.

Instead of anyone challenging them, the easier option was to add new ‘drop off zones’ to the road than ask people to let their children walk or consider leaving their precious cars at home.

I have a friend who works in Mullingar, two hours away. It takes him as long to make the journey across the city as it does to drive from Mullingar to the western fringes every day. He is constantly in despair.

And the solution we are being given is a new ring road. A decade after I wrote a series of reports, researched and costed, for a local newspaper about the huge difference a light rail system would make to a city of just 80,000 souls.


Communting in Galway. Photo: @cosaingalway on Twitter


People get angry, people get stressed, people spend a couple of hours a day stuck in their cars and so few people ever consider buying a bicycle, taking a bus, or walking.

This is at a time when fossil fuels are destroying our planet and we have no idea whether we will even still have petrol in 50 or 100 years.

Our ruling politicians don’t seem to care. They see jobs and publicity coming from a giant ring road as it tears through suburban communities and the long-term future of our planet pales into insignificance when they have elections to fight next year.

In Ireland, we laugh with derision at US President Donald Trump and the way in which he’s so quick to dismiss climate change. As long as he’s reopening the mines or putting trucks back on the roads, who cares?

We celebrate the budget airline which announces millions of extra bums on seats every year, instead of asking whether people really need to fly to Berlin or Birmingham for a stag weekend.

We somehow turn a collective blind eye to the biggest crisis our species has ever seen.

“It was the land that cultivated the people, before the people cultivated the land,” said a wise elder of the Warlpiri people in Australia, recalling simpler times when people felt far more of a connection to the natural world.

They weren’t locked up inside motorised boxes, unable to move, and screaming at other people in motorised boxes because they weren’t able to get to work on time.

Children at the Extinction Rebellion protest in Galway


And yet last weekend in Galway I attended one of the most inspiring events I have been to in years.
About 200 people gathered by the Salthill promenade on a cold November day for a day of action to protest against climate change.

They reminded us that life, or progress, is not just about roads, and factories and air miles, and that, by working together, we can give some hope to our children, that we do not have to carry out untold violence to the planet which sustains us.

It was amazing to see so many political and environmental groups come together to show that people can work together and that so many of us actually care.

The ‘day of action’ was called to highlight the destruction of our planet and the extinction crisis which has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970.

The people of Ireland have huge issues to face in terms of inequality, injustice, homelessness, and the crisis in the health service, but the environmental crisis dwarfs all of them given the catastrophe on the horizon if we don't change.

Calling out the names of extinct aniimals in Salthill 


Imagine what Galway will be like if we build a city bypass, turning a beautiful coastal city into a glorified motorway, only to find out that cars don’t exist in 50 years.

And is an outer bypass really the solution when our over-reliance on the car as a means of getting around is contributing to the destruction of our natural world? Not to mention a childhood obesity epidemic.

It felt like a key moment, as though people were finally waking up to the reality of what faces us on Saturday. It was so refreshing to see rival groups come together with common cause.

After some short, but brilliant, speeches the 200 people gathered on the prom participated in a little direct action which showed great imagination.

People stood in a long line at the seafront and then, one by one, they fell to their feet in memory of so many animals who have been wiped out by human beings and fossil fuels.

Pauline O'Reilly of the Green Party called out the names of animals who are no longer with us and the gesture really brought the gravity of the situation home for the many children in the crowd.

The Salthill event was part of a global day of action, with protests also happening in London, Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and other cities across the world.

It was truly an imaginative display, which brought the message home to the assembled children that modern human life, when motivated by greed and the pillaging of natural resources, is destroying the planet we love.

With the Irish Blog of the Year award last month



It was simple, but effective.

New challenges require new responses and the Extinction Rebellion event was unprecedented in terms of bringing so many groups and individuals together to talk about the daunting global issues we face when the very future of our planet is at stake.

In Salthill on Saturday, a lot of us felt a connection to the people and the planet around us which can never be experienced when you are stuck in traffic inside a car.

The speakers who addressed us like 19th century politicians, standing on top of a wall, told us about the small steps we can all take to combat climate change.

If only our rulers, our leaders, could show the same kind of imagination as the environmentalists did this week in facing up to and highlighting the biggest crisis facing us all.





Ciaran Tierney won the Best Current Affairs Blog in Ireland award in Dublin last month. Find him on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Neutrality means nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes

Remembering a Syrian child, who was murdered in a US airstrike,
during the monthly Shannonwatch protest at Shannon

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year 2018


On a cold Thursday night in November, a few dozen of us congregated in a beautiful but obscure new lecture hall on the western outskirts of the sprawling campus at NUI Galway.

Two Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), four TDs, academics, and peace activists had gathered for a lively and informative three hour discussion which garnered little or no media attention.

I know, because I asked three news editors in advance of the meeting if they would be interested in a piece. Not one of them even replied.

The subject of the meeting was the thorny question of whether or not Ireland is being steamrolled into joining a European Union army since PESCO – Permanent European Security / Military Co-Operation – was rushed through the Dail last December.

In theory at least, Ireland is a “neutral” country. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, the Independent MEP, called the Galway meeting in response to growing alarm over what PESCO actually means to Ireland.

Are we on our way to becoming part of a European ‘Super State’?

Is our military spending going to increase dramatically to €6 billion per year (or half of what we spend on our desperate health service) because of something our country signed up to with so little debate last year?

Does anybody care?

It is astounding that we hear so much about Brexit on the national airwaves every day, because Britain’s shambolic departure from the EU has such massive implications for Ireland, but we hear little or nothing about the contentious issue of a European Army.


The conference about the EU Army at NUI Galway this week


Are ‘Ming’ and the Independent TDs just alarmist crackpots? Is it really acceptable that unelected EU officials can lead us towards the formation of a ‘super’ army to rival those of the USA and Russia in the future?

And why, oh why, are so few Irish people talking about this?

Perhaps Irish neutrality is a sham, but shouldn’t we at least discuss this issue?

In Shannon last week, the important Shannonwatch peace group noted that a US military plane stopped off in a civilian airport on its way to and from Tel Aviv.

Nobody in authority at Shannon Airport ever checks the contents of the US military machines which have been landing there each and every week since 2001.

Last year, over 61,000 US troops stopped off in Shannon on their way to and from wars in the Middle East.

That might mean a hell of a lot of leprechaun and whiskey sales in the duty free shop, but it also makes a mockery of the concept of Irish neutrality.


A US miltiary supply plane in Shannon this week. It was on its way
'home' from Tel Aviv. Photo via Shannonwatch. 


If it wasn’t so serious, Irish people would be laughing over Brexit and the shambolic way in which pro-Brexit politicians in Britain, in their jingoistic haste to leave the EU, seem to have had no vision for the future.

Perhaps reform, rather than withdrawal, might be the correct response to an undemocratic, unaccountable Europe; but at least in Britain they have had some sort of debate about the EU and their country’s place in it.

The Irish, meanwhile, see ourselves as “model” Europeans even though it was our EU masters who forced us into the “bank bailout”, with devastating implications in terms of the loss of public service jobs, health care and welfare cuts, the privatisation of state assets, and a new wave of emigration at the start of this decade.

Not to mention the huge debt our country has been saddled with for years to come.

Now PESCO, according to the Independent TDs and MEPs, will see Ireland being steamrolled into an EU Army and it is quite amazing how little talk there is about this in Ireland.

“We have to work on a vision of creating a real true European Army,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for the formation of a “real” European Army during the Armistice Day commemorations last weekend.

On Tuesday, the European Commission said that a European Army is “likely” to be formed one day.

So the Galway conference this week seemed to be extremely timely.

“Does PESCO damage our neutrality?” asked Catherine Connolly TD. “Yes, it does. We are normalising war and the militarisation of Europe. PESCO was not discussed in our Dail. The good news is that 42 of us voted against it. Language has been stood on its head. We are heading towards a militarised Europe.”

She said that Irish soldiers have to rely on family income supplement in order to survive, in the middle of unprecedented crises in health care and housing.

Deputy Connolly pointed out that the head of the European Commission has never been elected by anyone and spoke of how uncomfortable she felt when he was given a reverential reception in the Dail.




A Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, has called for the “redefinition” of neutrality and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have denied that PESCO will impact on Irish neutrality.

Independent MEP Flanagan has described the massive global arms industry as an “untapped goldmine” in the eyes of the European Union.

Just as US President Donald Trump feels that punishing human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia would only be foolish if it damaged his country’s $110 billion arms trade with Riyadh, perhaps the Irish should be far more honest with ourselves.

Does our ‘neutrality’ mean anything when we get a chance to cosy up to and find favour with the world’s military powers?

Do we want to stand beside the French and Germans as they, too, aim to become global powers?

Perhaps, ultimately, the vast sums of money to be made from militarisation are far more important than the human rights of children in Syria, Palestine, Yemen or Afghanistan as the US military aircraft land and take off from Shannon Airport with total impunity every week.

“When you question why they are militarising the European Union, you must understand that this is not to protect or defend you,” said Flanagan.

“It is about money . . . and billions of it.”


Is Ireland already facilitating war crimes in the Middle East?
The horror of Syria.


Next time you have a loved-one lying on a hospital trolley for 48 hours, or finding it impossible to find an affordable place to live, remember that PESCO is set to increase Ireland’s military expenditure six times over.

Without any real, meaningful national debate about its implications.

Sometimes, when you look at the stories which are creating headlines, it’s just as informative to check out which stories are being ignored.

When a ‘neutral’ former colony wants to be part of a new global super-power, when arms sales are more important than human lives, language truly has been stood on its head.

Neutrality means next to nothing when we have dollar signs in our eyes.



Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year Award (personal) at the Tramline, Dublin, last month. He is seeking new opportunities in a digital age. Find him on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

Find Ciaran on Twitter https://twitter.com/ciarantierney

The first Conference Against US and NATO Military Bases takes place in Dublin this weekend. Details at https://www.facebook.com/events/304522810146150/






Thursday, November 1, 2018

An escape to the city of Irish hopes and dreams

New York offered hope to so many distressed and impoverished Irish



In a crowded hall in Queens last week, it was hard to avoid the feeling that Ireland was a repressive place – a place to escape from – for so much of our island’s recent history.

A hushed silence had descended over the New York Irish Center in Long Island City as an audience of mainly elderly and middle-aged people gathered to watch a documentary about the harrowing scandal of the ‘Tuam Babies’.

And, then . . . the anger, the questions, and the disbelief. How had this happened to ordinary Irish women and children within living memory?

How had 796 babies and infants been discarded like rag dogs, and perhaps even dumped in a septic tank, in a 20th century Western society?

From the 1920s, when the Irish State was founded, to the 1990s, Irish women had been imprisoned for the terrible ‘crime’ of giving birth to a child outside marriage. Their children were branded as “illegitimate”, many taken from them often against their will, and the women themselves were shamed for life.

That’s why they needed to escape, not just from the institutions themselves but from an island which labelled and judged them, and seized them from their family homes in the dead of night.

Where was the justice? Where were the fathers? Why was such cruelty inflicted on these women and these children?

I watched in awe as Galway man Peter Mulryan and his wife Kathleen fielded their questions and told them what it was like to find out, as Peter did in his seventies, that a younger sister he never knew he had could be buried in a septic tank.

Or, for all he knows, Marian could be alive today and walking the streets of New York, Boston, or Chicago, completely unaware of who she really is or where she really is from.

Nobody has any idea yet about the scale of adoptions of Irish children of babies to the United States in the 20th century or the number of women who escaped from 'laundries' and 'baby homes' in order to move there.

Because the story of the ‘Tuam Babies’ is a story of (illegal) adoptions to ‘good’ Catholic families in America and a generation of women who emigrated to America to escape from the shame.

The documentary screened in Queens and Boston, ‘Mother & Baby’, looked at the harsh lives of 20th century Irish women and children . . . and the survivors’ valiant efforts to rebuild their lives.

A packed house at the New York Irish Centre in Queens


In the United States last week, it was astonishing to hear the children of these women stand up and tell their stories. How they knew they had left Ireland, but only found out after they died that they had been imprisoned for having babies long before starting new lives.

One man told me his sister lives just down the road from me in Galway. His mother never talked about her, or the horrors she experienced as a prisoner in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home before she escaped to America.

Where would his family be without America?

And, indeed, where would the Irish be without the great Irish cities of New York and Boston?
They offered hope, a refuge, and a fresh start for so many of us that we take our connections with America, and the Big Apple, for granted at times.

I arranged to meet Peter and Kathleen at the Irish Hunger Memorial in the financial district of Manhattan a few days before the screening of the ‘Mother & Baby’ documentary in Queens.

It felt like the perfect place to ponder on how our little windswept island in the North Atlantic had failed to provide fulfilling lives for so many generations of our people over the past couple of centuries.

The incongruous stone walls and little cottage under the gaze of so many skyscrapers and the One World building was a little reminder that, for so many Irish, this place offered the chance of a life which was impossible back home.

A family from Co Mayo transferred the entire stone cottage across the Atlantic to educate the people of the US about the Great Famine.

Peter and Kathleen Ryan at the Irish Hunger
Memorial in Manhattan, New York, last week


It makes for a remarkable image, and a wonderful quiet haven in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

At the memorial, there's a quote from Loughrea, Co Galway, a few years before the famine about people who had pawned off all their clothes and were unable to go to Mass.

It brought home to me how close the people of Syria today are to the Irish, and those from Connacht in particular, who fled oppression, conflict, and famine.

The simple, but beautiful, memorial in New York reminded me of our own simple seaside memorial in Salthill, to remind people of the 100 ‘coffin ships’ which set sail from Galway Bay to America between 1847 and 1850.

Thousands of our people set sail for the great cities of New York and Boston at a time when a million people died of starvation.

Without the hundreds of thousands of Irish who found new lives in the Americas, the scale of the disaster back home would have been unthinkable.

Without the money they sent home to loved-ones in Ireland throughout the 19th century, the deprivation experienced would have been off the scale.

Many of those who were “lucky” enough to have a ticket to America never even made it to the other side.

When they poured off the boats and into the crowded slums of the Five Points, they may have encountered criminality, murders, and discrimination, but they had power in numbers, they organised themselves, and they built new lives.

At the Irish Hunger Memorial in Manhattan 


At the wonderful Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, our informative young Italian-American guide marvelled at how an Irish family had improved their lot by moving out of the ghetto in the 1860s.

She showed us around the small yard they would have shared with 22 other families and showed us the picture of Daniel ‘The Libertor’ O’Connell and the map of Ireland on the wall.

They worked hard to make decent lives for their children and in many respects the impoverished Irish back home had no idea of the struggles their emigrant brothers and sisters had to forge out a decent standard of living in America.

The Irish were still facing discrimination when they moved into that building but, remarkably, she told us that 25% of the people in New York had been born in Ireland at that time. No wonder our people took over City Hall, the police, the fire department, and perhaps even the crime gangs at the time.

Our guide, Chelsea, told us of how the Irish enriched New York with their music, their pubs, and their culture, but not their food, unlike say the Italians or the Chinese.

She knew a lot about the Great Famine, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that huge swathes of the Irish population had lived solely on the humble potato for over half a century before the Moore family moved to their small tenement in the Lower East Side in 1869.

Out at Ellis Island, a steady stream of tourists is reminded every day that a young Irish girl called Anna ‘Annie’ Moore, aged just 15, was the very first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in 1892.

They are asked to imagine the excitement of a young girl upon seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, after making a 12 day voyage from Co Cork.

At the World Trade Centre site, I came across the memorial to Tuam woman Ann McHugh who lost her life on 9/11, just a five minute walk from the Irish Hunger Memorial.

In Hell’s Kitchen, Mayo women in their 50s and 60s used to serve us tea and coffees in Irish cafes on my first visit to New York two decades ago.

So many of our generation found new lives in the United States in the 1950s and again in the 1980s when the Irish Government could offer them little hope of finding work at home.



Celebrating the Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year award


"Emigration will soon cause it to be said that Ireland is no longer where flows the Shannon, but rather beside the banks of the Hudson River,” says one of the more memorable quotes at the Irish Hunger Museum.

New York is no longer an “Irish” city in the way it was a century ago and the Irish have long since moved out of the Five Points to be replaced by Chinatown.

The distressed migrants of 2018 are no longer crossing the Atlantic on ‘coffin ships’ from Cork and Galway, but joining a caravan from Honduras and El Salvador or paying people traffickers to take them out of the hell of Syria.

For so many of our people, escaping famine and persecution in the 1800s, the shame of a judgemental society in the 1950s, or recession and stagnation in the 1990s, New York – and America – offered the Irish opportunities and dreams which were denied to them at home.

Where would the Irish be without America?

As we look forward, and our lives evolve, we should never forget where we came from.


Ciaran Tierney won the Best Current Affair Blog in Ireland award at the Tramline, Dublin, last week. Find him on Facebook here

Find Ciaran on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ciarantierney

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

No ordinary friend

Brave meningitis survivor Liam Cullinane




A few weeks ago, on a glorious Saturday afternoon, I met an old friend for a cup of coffee outside a café in the centre of town. He might not realise it, but meeting Liam is almost always an uplifting experience.

On this particular day, his positivity was unreal. He was more animated than I had seen him in months.

He had just emerged from an oxygen chamber, where he had been getting daily treatment for a few weeks. As I sat down across from him, he raised his right hand.

“Watch this!” he exclaimed, loudly.

He picked up a cup with his right hand.

The tourists at the next table looked up momentarily, curious as to why this middle-aged man was so animated about picking up a cup outside a Galway city centre café.

He paused.

“I haven’t been able to do that for the past 25 years!”

He was so thrilled, his enthusiasm was infectious. Suddenly, a hundrum afternoon in my home town had been transformed. The significance of the gesture was lost on the people sitting at the nearby table.

I wanted to shout out, to tell them if only they knew what this man had been through. Instead, we just sat there, beaming.

It was the first time he had been able to pick up a cup or a glass with that hand in 25 years. This was not some small little victory. This was a triumph and we were both thrilled.

Six weeks earlier, he had discovered a new oxygen treatment facility in Galway. Both of us are trained professional scuba divers, but it was news to me that privately run hyperbaric chambers are now being used to treat multiple illnesses, infections, and diseases across the world.





I had only really associated them with divers and ‘the bends’, even though I knew the chamber at University Hospital Galway was used for non-diving injuries.

If only the people at the next table could understand. My old buddy had been diagnosed with a deadly form of meningitis way back in 1993. This man had lain in a coma in Scotland for months, he had had to teach himself to walk again, to brush his teeth, and to move around.

At one stage, the only parts of his body that he could move were his eyes. The prognosis was grim. And now, a quarter of a century later, he had picked up a cup with that hand – without shaking – for the first time.

He has been blown away by what the anti-inflammatory oxygen therapy has done for him for the past few months.

“It seems to be working away at reducing the inflammation in my brain and body, and the results so far have been excellent. After the very first treatment I noticed increased flexibility and slept really well that night,” he told me this week.

“I awoke feeling energised the following morning. After six weeks of treatment, the tremor in my right arm reduced to such an extent that I was able to drink a glass of water using my right hand without any spillage for the first time in 25 years!”

A meeting with an old friend for coffee on a Saturday afternoon had become a thrilling moment of jubilation. I was delighted, but not surprised.

Because, like so many people I know, I have been inspired by the battling qualities of Liam Cullinane ever since we met as teenagers in school over three decades ago.





Liam was a tough young adventurer, who left school in Colaiste Iognaid with just one mission on his mind. A star of the victorious school rugby team, he wanted to join the French Foreign Legion.

A lot of Galway teenagers spoke with bravado about their plans to leave our small city behind them in the recession-hit 1980s. Only Liam was as good as his word. As soon as he finished school, he hit for Corsica and enlisted. He ended up staying in the French Foreign Legion for seven years, including three years skydiving with the Parachute Regiment.

If he showed a spirit of adventure in his youth, it was nothing compared to the bravery he has demonstrated to all of his friends and family members over the past 25 years.

When he left the legion, he never wanted to live in Galway. He wanted adventure in sun-kissed lands far from the wet and windy west and was looking forward to new adventures when he trained to become a commercial diver in Fort William, Scotland.

Only Liam, more than anyone I know, discovered at an early age that life does not always follow the best-laid plans and that nothing should ever be taken for granted.

If, like Liam, you jump out of bed with that attitude every morning, it’s amazing how much your life can be transformed. No matter what the ailment or problem.

In Scotland, he had just finished the diving course when disaster struck. His landlady found him lying in a coma after he should have left his flat. He had made light of what he thought was a headache or a very bad flu.

Aged just 26, he had contracted a rare and deadly form of listerial meningitis which normally only affects the elderly or babies under three months old. He was given very little hope of a long or healthy life and it took months before Liam was well enough to be transferred home to be near his family in Galway.

Sometimes the true value of a person is not in his job, or career, money in the bank, or sporting prowess, but in the example he sets to others.

Ask anyone who knows Liam and they will tell you the same thing. The man simply inspires, because the thing he values above everything else is the kind of thing we all tend to take for granted. A walk in the wind, a cycle along the promenade, a visit to a friend’s house, an independent life . . . all things which seemed impossible for Liam during his long spell in hospital in the 1990s.

I don’t know anyone else who knows and understands the value and importance of the simple things in life. The fun of ‘slagging’ a group of old friends, the social side of enjoying a cup of tea, and especially the importance of good health – which is something many members of our generation rarely put a value on in our younger years.

A quiz for Liam takes place on Thursday night


The determination this man has shown to build an independent life has been nothing short of inspirational.

He managed to get a Council house from Galway City Council because he did not want to be a burden on his family.

He persuaded a friend to build a custom-built tricycle, which gives him the freedom to move around. He’s as well known as the Mayor as he bombs around the streets of Galway.

And, indeed, when he had a problem with a spout of dampness in his house, he had no qualms about calling the current Mayor of Galway, Niall McNelis, to make sure he helped him out!

And, above all else, he has sought out a healthy lifestyle. Whatever treatment possible which could help him strengthen his limbs and boost his independence, Liam has tried it. He has travelled far and wide and often doctors, overwhelmed by his spirit of determination, have befriended Liam and decided to waive their fees.

He has travelled to Australia, to visit his brother. He joined ultra-marathon organiser, and Galway native, Richie Donovan on a trip to the North Pole.

He has travelled to the US, Holland, Dublin, and London for different types of treatments.

He has travelled to Thailand on his own, even though walking can be a challenge.

And he has kept in touch with a huge circle of friends, each and every one of us inspired by his determination to be healthy and to make the most of life.

He has befriended and become something of a model for ACT for Meningitis in Galway, the charity set up by a young mum who lost her little daughter to the deadly infection.

It can be truly uplifting to see how Liam inspires the families of people who have lost youngsters to meningitis, or how he helps the ACT women in raising awareness for families as to how they should look out for the symptoms.

Four years ago, when I had taken voluntary redundancy and picked up the MRSA bug in University College Hospital, I was seriously ill for seven months.

The illness only added to my worries about an uncertain future after leaving a full-time job in the newspaper industry behind. I was filled with fear. 

Any tendency I had towards self-pity would evaporate whenever I arranged to have a coffee with Liam (only he would drink tea, because his super strict diet includes a ban on caffeine!).

He would show me that it’s not what happens to you in life (relationships, jobs, careers, set-backs, whatever) that matters, it’s how you deal with it that counts.

Because nobody else I know has staged such a long and brave battle just to have a full and independent life.

Now he wants our help.

The hyperbaric oxygen therapy which has transformed his life in recent months is costly.

Liam is a daily user of the OxyGeneration clinic in Galway, and he wants to continue the treatment until the end of this year.

The treatment involves breathing almost 100% oxygen in a pressurised room. It is considered a medicine, but is not covered by the public health care system.

A group of his friends have come together to raise funds for Liam’s treatment at Crowe’s pub, Bohermore, Galway, this Thursday, October 11, at 8pm. Entry costs €40 per table of four.
If you cannot make the quiz, you could also support Liam at: https://www.gofundme.com/oxygeneration-liam-cullinane

Because the value Liam Cullinane brings to the people who know him cannot be measured in monetary terms.

He’s still battling, after 25 years, and the money raised from this quiz will help to transform his future.



Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, seeking new opportunities in the digital age. Find him on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

This blog is a finalist in the 2018 Irish Blog of the Year Awards

Monday, October 1, 2018

They travelled to remember the lost children of Tuam

A cermony of healing in Tuam on Saturday


They came from Cork, Donegal, Tipperary, and even Newry, to underline that the story of the ‘Tuam Babies’ is not just a story of Tuam. It’s a story of survivors and families in similar institutions all across the land, and how the Irish State, their communities, and even members of their own families let Irish women and children down.

Two bus-loads arrived from Dublin. As if to remind some of them of how hurt many people still feel by this issue, one man declined to give the women on one bus directions when they lost their way on the edge of town.

For many, it was a first ever visit to a site which is now known all across the globe.

It still seems incongruous to have to go through a narrow gap between local authority houses and walk around a playground to access a site which has become Ireland’s most infamous unmarked burial ground.

Only this was a day for healing, for forging friendships, and showing solidarity with a remarkable group of people, elderly now, who never sought the global spotlight. As they stood around the site, it was amazing to hear them share their stories in ways which must have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.

If the research of Catherine Corless has shone a spotlight on some of the darkest history of 20th century Ireland, it has also given a voice to people who never spoke out before.

Such as the lovely man from Cork, now in his 70s, who told me he had never met a woman because he never felt worthy of love; or the man who worked for years in South Galway and created a loving family, despite the beatings and never being taught to read or write in that infamous institution they dared to call a ‘home’.

But there were good stories too, of good priests who went to a lot of trouble to help some of them track down their birth mothers and family reunions which had seemed impossible to them in the earlier years of their lives.


The beautiful white blanket featuring 796 squares for each of the babies


Three hundred women all across the globe, including many in North America, were inspired by a Dublin artist to make a blanket of 796 hand-knitted pieces which they presented to the families and survivors of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home on Saturday.

In an emotional ceremony at the site where up to 796 babies and children are believed to have been buried in an unmarked grave, Dublin artist Barbara O’Meara unveiled the beautiful white blanket – sewn together in four parts to depict the four provinces of Ireland – to the family members after meeting them for the first time.

The unveiling of the beautiful blanket, knitted by hand following a Facebook campaign, coincided with an inaugural Remembrance Day for the Lost Children of Ireland event at the site of the former home.

Former residents of institutions across Ireland travelled to Tuam for the event, which included poetry from survivors, a concert, and the screening of a documentary about the ‘Tuam Babies’ which is due to be shown in New York and Boston at the end of this month.

The survivors are still trying to reach out to people in North America who may have been adopted illegally from Catholic institutions in Ireland, as they have no idea how many of the children really are buried next to a playground in the Co Galway town.

Survivors and family members at the Tuam site


Tuam Home Survivors Network Chairman Peter Mulryan, whose younger sister is one of the 796 dead babies, said the survivors continue to be overwhelmed by the support they receive from across the globe.

Now 74, Peter only found out he had a younger sister among the ‘Tuam Babies’ four years ago. He has been on a mission to find out what happened to her ever since, and believes she may have been adopted by a family in the United States.

Until an exhumation is carried out at the site, he said he had no way of knowing what happened to her.

“We are the kind of people who would not have been known or heard of, but now we are being extremely well represented all over the world. It’s just mind-boggling, the way the wheel has turned around. We were classed as nobodies, people who were not to be heard,” said Mr Mulryan.

Mr Mulyran expressed anger that An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had visited the site in a personal capacity after attending a Fine Gael party event in Galway recently, without making any attempt to contact the survivors.

He accused the Irish Government of trying to turn local residents against the survivors in determining the future of the site.

Reading out the names of the 796 'Tuam Babies'



“Our search for justice is awful slow. We don’t understand why a public figure like An Taoiseach would come sneaking down, with nobody to meet him. It hurt us very much. We were so disgusted with An Taoiseach, to hear that he spoke to the residents, to ask them what they would like done here, rather than to ask us, the families and survivors,” he said.

Peter and his wife Kathleen are set to travel to the US in two weeks as a bid to reach out to people who were adopted from institutions in Ireland.

“We are hoping to meet up with people who believe they may have been adopted from Ireland. If anybody wants to contact we are here to help them,” he told me.

Although she has no connection with the Tuam families or the site, artist Barbara O’Meara said she was compelled to set up the ‘Stitched With Love’ project after watching coverage of the ‘Tuam Babies’ case on Irish television.

“I do a lot of work with marginalised groups, people with addiction or people who have been bereaved. I felt a need to do this project. I kind of realised that women wanted to do something to support the Tuam Babies and the survivors,” she said.

“I just set up a Facebook page and then women across the globe began to hear about it. Women from America, Scotland, and Australia began to get in touch. Everybody bought their own wool and I did have some help stitching them together. We got the 796 together and the survivors’ groups were informed. The project has taken two years, just me and a Facebook page!”

She said that women across the globe found a great sense of healing by knitting the 796 white squares and it was a really emotional experience to see the full blanket being unveiled at the site at the weekend.

She organised a Shamanic healing ceremony with Karen Ward, who had worked on her for a project to heal the children of the 1916 Easter Rising. Two bus-loads of women travelled from Dublin for the Tuam event and they were deeply moved by the experience.

“I hadn’t been to the site before and I decided not to come until the blankets came with me. I kept wondering how I would feel if my brother, my sister, or my mother was here. Having the sensibility of an artist, I am not very political or verbal. But I’m a creative person. When I walked onto the site I felt the energy was very heavy. It’s just an honour, really, to meet these survivors and honour these little children,” she said.


With Alison O'Reilly and Anna Corrigan at the site on Saturday



At the ceremony, I was also delighted to meet Anna Corrigan of the Tuam Babies Family Group and author Alison O'Reilly.

Alison and Anna worked together to write 'My Name is Bridget', the story of Anna's mother who had been incarcerated in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Anna, who grew up in Dublin, only discovered that she had two older brothers after her mother passed away. Her two brothers are among the 796 missing children and babies.

The book is a harrowing read, but it also really 'humanises' the story of the lost children and also looks at some other case histories from homes across Ireland.

Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Home Survivors Network pointed out that the infant mortality rate at the home was five times that of the population outside; and that 126 of the babies died within the first six months of life.

“Death certificates were not signed by a medical practitioner, but rather a domestic at the home, burials were outside the norm, custom or law. Without coffins.  Without a word, a prayer or a gesture of sympathy in a land that is renowned for its funeral services where communities seek comfort in the untimely death of a young person,” she said.

She pointed out that 35,000 women and girls went through Ireland’s Mother and Baby Home system between 1904 to 1996. This was a national issue, she said, as she pointed out that survivors from institutions all across Ireland had travelled to Tuam for the event.


Peter Mulryan will lead a Walk With Peter event in which 796 cardboard coffins will be carried through the streets of Dublin this Saturday, October 6. The little coffins will be carried from O’Connell Street to the Garden of Remembrance to remind people that the families are still seeking justice for their loved-ones. 

* Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. He is looking for new opportunities in a digital world. Find him on Facebook here

Find Ciaran on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ciarantierney