Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bob Dylan – Blowing in the Wind of the 1960s

Bob Dylan and his harmonica 1963. Image from Guardian.co.uk

Being a teen in Ireland in the early 1960s was a fascinating time. The Irish television service had just been introduced in 1961, although those of us who lived near the border with the six counties of Northern Ireland had enjoyed the BBC for  several years before – all in black and white of course!

One of the abiding memories from my teens was at age 15, racing into the living room and being stopped in my tracks by Martin Luther King on the television, delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, in Washington D.C. I was rooted to the spot. I also vividly recall the news reports of the war in Vietnam, the ‘FLOP-flop, FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop,FLOP-flop’ sound of Huey helicopters flying at terrifying angles and offloading their human cargoes of young men just a few years older than myself – either crouched and running,being carried on stretchers or in body bags. Never before had anything like these scenes been witnessed at a distance, by any generation. The impact on us was remarkable.

Dylan and Joan Baez. Civil Rights March Washington D.C 1963. Image wikipedia.com

At the same time music was evolving, leaving behind the big band and orchestral sounds and becoming much more exciting and exhilarating. For a huge number of teenagers and young adults in the 1960s, Bob Dylan was phenomenal. With his guitar and harmonica and ‘drawl style’ of singing, he was unique. ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times  they are a-Changin’ captured the mood exactly. They not only added an authenticity to the events, they challenged us not to remain complacent.

That Bob Dylan helped motivate an entire  generation to become socially aware, is probably an understatement.  Although he disliked the tag ‘protest song’, this is exactly what his compositions were to an emerging generation who were seeing things in their own homes that had only ever been read about in the past. His social commentaries were powerful motivators in making people question social inequality and the human cost of the Vietnam conflict. Not only that, his songs were like nothing we had heard before.  They had beautiful melodies, they were poetic, they had a social message. They were anthems of the time, most especially for the Civil Rights movement in the USA and for the anti-war movement, both of which, with the inspiration of Bob Dylan, became international movements.

For those of us emerging into adulthood in the sixties, Bob Dylan was a true icon. His poetry was inspiring; his message was beyond love-songs, beyond ‘ be-bop-a-doo-dah’ banality. His place in the politics, history and culture of the 1960s  enabled us to admonish those who perpetrated injustices in a way that had not been seen before and  not has been seen since.

How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?….. How many times must the cannonballs fly, before they are forever banned?…

How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?… How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry?

How many deaths will it take till he knows  that too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Happy birthday, Bob Dylan –  you changed me…you changed the world !

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, Social Change

Obama in Ireland II: Ancestral Home

It is estimated that  there are about 40 million Americans who claim Irish descent. Hardly surprising then that 20 Presidents of the United States of America can claim to have Irish blood in their veins. President Obama’s Irishness is a relatively recent discovery and came as a surprise to many. There was no hint in his un-Irish surname nor was there any hint of a ruddy Irish complexion!

President John F Kennedy was the first President to come here to visit the home of his ancestors. His grandfather used to tell him stories of Ireland that he in turn had heard from his mother. In all, Kennedy had 8 great grandparents who left Ireland in the mid 1800s as famine gripped the country.

Migration has been a feature of Irish history more than almost any other country in the world. Long before the Famine – from 1600 – Irish people crossed the Atlantic,with considerable numbers leaving from 1720 onwards in a fairly steady stream. These early emigrants were mostly from the northern and eastern counties of Ireland. However, by far the largest numbers to emigrate did so around 1845 during and after the Famine, with huge numbers leaving from the south and west of the country.

Templeharry Church.Place of worship of Kearney Family,Co Offaly.Picture from Discover Ireland

The Kearney family, from who the 44th President Obama is descended, were a relatively prosperous family in Shinrone, and later in Moneygall, in County Offaly, or what used to be King’s County. Wigmakers by profession, the family was part of an extensive family business and later became shoemakers to their local community. There are records to show that the family were active in famine relief in the Moneygall area. A young Fulmuth Kearney left Ireland at the end of the Famine, arriving  in New York in March 1850.The 1870 census records him farming in Indiana, where he died in 1878.

Cullenwaine Churchyard where many of Obama's relatives rest in unmarked graves. Image from Discover Ireland

On St Patrick’s Day 2011 President Obama paid tribute to his ancestors and all people who left this country for a new life: ‘‘Like so many immigrants who came to call this country home, these men and women were guided by a deep faith and an unwavering belief that here in America a better life is available for anybody who’s willing to try. And even though they weren’t always welcomed in their new land, they persevered. They built and led and defended our country while still holding fast to their heritage. And in many ways, what it means to be Irish helped to define what it means to be American.”

On Monday May 23rd 2011, over 160 years after his ancestor left these shores, the most powerful man in the world will visit the tiny rural community where his ancestors lived out their lives. Beidh céad míle fáilte roimhe.

References

Kearney Family History as researched by Eneclann Ltd

Those family historians who are exasperated trying to trace Irish family records will be particularly interested in reading the family history for it shows the difficulties with Irish records and how we need to rely on other sources for information.

The Ancestral Home of Barack Obama blog Know Thy Place 

Discover Ireland Tourism

Ancestors of American Presidents (2009 Edition), Gary Boyd Roberts reviewed here by Sean Murphy 


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Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish History

Obama in Ireland I:In the footsteps of Douglass

Air Force One will touch down in Dublin, Ireland on Monday morning next, May 23rd 2011, carrying the President of the United States of America. Not for the first time has a President of the United States landed on this island. Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush have all paid us visits.

Barack Obama’s interest in Ireland was a political one long before we or even he, heard of his familial ties to this country.

Frederick Douglass c 1860. Library of Congress.

One of the people greatly admired by Mr.Obama and often quoted by him during his presidential campaign was the anti-slavery campaigner, statesman and orator, Frederick Douglass. Douglass was an African-American escaped slave who had written his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and toured the lecture circuit in the northern states of America.  In fear of recapture, he went to Europe to gain support for the anti slavery cause and arrived in Ireland in 1845.  In September 1845 he met Daniel O’Connell.

Daniel O'Connell, Champion of Liberty. Library of Congress.

Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’ was a lawyer who fought for the rights of the Irish who had been oppressed and ruled by the British for hundreds of years. He was vehemently opposed to violence and was committed to change by democratic means. As a skillful orator he attracted huge crowds to rallies across Ireland. He was known for his commitment to and support for many disenfranchised groups, including the slaves in the United States of America as well as Jews who did not have a vote at that time. He said “My political creed is short and simple.  It consists in believing that all men are entitled to civil and religious liberty.”

The 70-year-old O’Connell and the 27-year-old Douglass became firm friends. Douglass was deeply impressed by the oratorical skills of Daniel O’Connell and wrote in ‘Life and Times’,(the third version of his autobiography),’Eloquence came down upon the vast assembly like a summer thunder shower on a dusty road”.

Douglass was inspired and influenced both by O’Connell and by his time in Ireland. While in Dublin he wrote a new preface to his original work that demonstrated a new self-confidence as well as a deepening of his interest in human rights,  and added further dimension to his arguments for social change in his own country.

The story of Daniel O ‘Connell (1775 – 1847) and Frederick Douglass is told in the exhibition ‘Daniel O’Connell, The Man Who Discovered Ireland’ at Glasnevin Museum, which runs until December 2011.

References

Clare County Library – Daniel O’Connell accessed here.

Ferreira Patricia J. 2001 Frederick Douglass in Ireland:the Dublin edition of his Narrative, New Hibernia Review, Vol 5, Number 1, Spring 2001. Project Muse Referenced here.

Daniel O’Connell’s influence on Frederick Douglass accessed at About.Com

Glasnevin Cemetery Museum

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Filed under Ireland, Irish American, Irish History, Social Change, Social Justice, Suffrage

Choosing to change the future:Queen Elizabeth II in Ireland

Living in Ireland, it is hard to ignore the momentous events taking place in our country at the moment.

An Irish army officer at the President’s residence, announces Queen Elizabeth II   –  “Banríon Eilís a Dó”.

A short time later, an Irish military band plays ‘God Save The Queen, the British national anthem. The location is one of  the most iconic sites in Ireland – the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. The President of Ireland and the British Monarch ascend the 22 steps to the  memorial sculpture to lay wreaths.

The Queen steps forward to lay her wreath. She steps back, then bows her head in respect for those who died for freedom – died fighting against her country. It is a poignant moment.

Banríon Eilís a Dó at the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin May 17th 2011. (Picture RTE)

The one minute’s silence that follows is intense and emotional; it brings a tear to many watching -whether present or watching on television. Kathy Sheridan in the Irish Times wrote: ”a host of old ghosts, dear and gentle, fierce and austere, hovered around a small, elderly woman, dressed in pretty ivory and sage, standing in homage before a sculpture inspired by the legend of the tragic Children of Lir and Yeats’s Easter 1916 ”

It was indeed a symbolism beyond words.

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Living in Ireland

Bealtaine: Pushing the boat out

Surely May is the most fabulous of all months in the Irish countryside! The snow-white Blackthorn flowers give way to the blossom laden arching branches of the Hawthorn, or May blossom. Often alongside is to be found the vibrant yellow of whins, or gorse, and together they make the most beautiful spectacle in the Irish countryside as they light up miles and miles of hedgerows. The Irish word for May is ‘Bealtaine’ (pronounced Baal-tin-a) which means ‘Bright Fire’. How appropriate then that May was chosen as the month to celebrate the creativity of older age, with the annual month-long Bealtaine Festival taking place across all of Ireland.

Now in its 16th year, the Bealtaine Festival  happens in Art centres, museums, libraries, theatres, Active Retirement Groups, community clubs, care centres, even beaches! Anyplace where the talents of older people, whether professionals or first timers, can be showcased.The ethos is one of celebration, empowerment, fun and confidence-building by the participants, whether as performers, organizers or audiences. In 2010, over 100,000 people participated in the event. This cultural innovation is unrivalled anywhere else in the world, but other countries are establishing similar festivals modelled on Ireland’s success, in Germany, Scotland and Wales, for example.

Bealtaine is spearheaded by the Age & Opportunity organization and part funded by the Arts Council. Age & Opportunity is a non-profit organization working to promote participation by older people in various aspects of society. The Bealtaine Festival, one of its major initiatives,  concentrates on greater participation by older people in the arts.  With a theme for 2011 of  ‘Push the boat out, whatever the sea’ (a line from the poem ‘At Eighty’, by Edwin Morgan) there are hundreds of events taking place all over Ireland. A Festival Programme is available here .

The Bealtaine Festival was independently evaluated by the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at University College Galway. Their study revealed that participation or attendance at events had positive effects on well-being and morale as well as self-esteem and self-confidence. Social connections were improved as new relationships were formed. Over 86% of participants said it improved their quality of life. This research underpins the value to society of a programme for involvement of older people  in the arts, especially as the age profile of our population increases.  It follows that it also underpins the wonderful work being undertaken by Age & Opportunity, work that is worthy of  the support of all of us.

References

Age & Opportunity

Bealtaine Festival

Poem  At Eighty

Evaluation of Bealtaine Festival Report 

Irish Centre for Social Gerontology 

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Filed under Ageism, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Older Generation, Retirement Age, Seniors, Social Networking

Mother’s Day and The Battle Hymn of the Republic

John Brown Song. Image from Library of Congress

John Brown, an abolitionist determined to destroy the slavery system in America, led 21 supporters across the Potomac river from Maryland to Virginia, in October 1859. The aim was to seize weapons held at an arsenal in Harper’s Ferry that would  help further their cause to rid America of slavery. Brown’s mission came to an end two days later when the arsenal was stormed by U.S. troops, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee. Ironically,the first person killed by Brown’s men was a free black man named Heywood Shepherd and, of interest to us here in Ireland, the second person to die was an Irishman,Thomas Boerly, a native of County Roscommon who had arrived in the USA in 1844 in search of a better life. John Brown was seriously wounded in the fray and he was tried, found guilty of treason and hanged on December 2 1859. Very soon after his death his memory was preserved by the addition of new lyrics to an already established popular tune that became known as the John Brown Song. The John Brown Song was played in public for perhaps the first time on May 12, 1861 at a flag raising ceremony at Fort Warren, near Boston, very shortly after the start of the American Civil War. The song, better known as ‘John Brown’s Body‘, quickly became a hit in the Union army. New verses were added as its popularity grew, some of which were full of humour and mockery  – such as:

”We’ll feed old Jeff Davis sour apples/’til he gets the diarhee ” was a sung version, which in print became ‘We’ll hang old Jeff Davis /from a sour apple tree”. Apparently social niceties of the time meant that hanging was much more acceptable than mention of bodily functions.

In November 1861, Julia Ward Howe, a writer, poet and herself a social reformer and abolitionist, visited  Washington D.C. to meet with President Abraham Lincoln. While there, she attended a public review of troops at which the John Brown Song was sung. Julia’s companion asked her if she could improve on the rather ‘coarse’ lyrics and pen some words that would be more appropriate for fighting men.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Published 1862

Julia recalled:

‘I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper‘.

And so, on the night of November 18th 1861, the words of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, full of biblical references, were composed by Julia in a room in the Willard Hotel, Washington D.C . They were first published in the Atlantic Monthly in February of the following year. The song was highly acclaimed and quickly became the anthem of the Union army and the best known song of the Civil War. It has survived down the years  as a very stirring and moving patriotic hymn of the United States, and much loved by people beyond their shores.

Julia had witnessed first hand the horrors of the civil war. As a member of the Sanitary Commission, set up to promote healthy and clean conditions in the camps of the Union Army in an attempt to reduce the numbers dying from infection, she had witnessed the terrible results of conflict – death, disease, maiming, bereavement, poverty, destruction of towns and infrastructure.  She also worked to support and raise funds to help the widows and orphans on both sides.

At the same time, Ann Jervis, a devout church goer and social activist, was also actively involved in bringing relief of suffering to those affected by the war. She had worked tirelessly to try to mend the rift between both sides of the conflict, and when the war ended the tensions between the returning Confederate and Union soldiers in Virgina where she lived were running high. In 1865 she organized a Mothers Friendship Day to bring together soldiers and families of both sides. The event, to the surprise of many who had expected fighting to break out, was a great success and was repeated on an annual basis for some years.

Julia meanwhile used her celebrity status to promote  pacifism and women’s suffrage. As a much sought after speaker she  had a forum for the promotion of peace. In 1870 at the outbreak of another war between France and Prussia  and influenced by the work of Ann Jarvis, she called on women everywhere to come together to oppose war and to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts. Julia issued her Mother’s Day Proclamation and proposed an annual Mother’s Day, honouring Peace, Motherhood and Womanhood. The idea was taken up and the day was celebrated in some cities across the nation for many years, but it was not the great success that she had hoped.

After the death of Ann Jarvis, her daughter Anna Jarvis decided to commemorate her own mother’s memory and began a crusade to have a national day for all mothers. The first such day was celebrated in a church in 1907 where Anne Jarvis as a young woman, had taught Sunday school. The idea spread and soon was being celebrated in 45 states.

Julia died in 1910, at the age of 91. While she is best known as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, she is also recognized as a significant contributor to the establishment of a Mother’s Day.

Just a few years after her death, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the first National Mother’s Day and signed a Congressional Resolution declaring that the second Sunday in May would henceforth be a day to honour all mothers.

Julia Ward Howe c. 1861. Image Commons.Wikimedia.Org

Happy Mother’s Day to all readers who celebrate this day in May.  To see my post about Mothering Sunday in Ireland, click here.

References

Eyewitness to History – John Brown

James Fould, 2000. The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk

About.Com Women’s History: Julia Ward Howe

Joseph Barry. The Strange Story of Harper’s Ferry. Accessed at Project Gutenberg 

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Filed under American Civil War, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Mother's Day, Social Change, Suffrage