Category Archives: Significant World Events

International Women’s Day – Make it Happen with Kiva!

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Theme for IWD 2015

Theme for IWD 2015

International Women’s Day 2015 is on Sunday March 8th, with a theme this year of ‘Make it Happen’!  Unable to attend any of the very many events happening across the world, I wondered how I as an individual might ‘Make it Happen’.  No sooner had I begun wondering than an email arrived, announcing that I had received a repayment  on a loan I had made through Kiva. That’s it, I thought! By donating the money I saved through not attending a real live event, I can ‘Make it Happen’ for  women less fortunate than myself. Kiva is a microfunding, not for profit organization that facilitates loans to low-income entrepreneurs and students, male and female, in over 70 countries. It is possible for those of us with limited means to make a difference as the smallest loan amount is  25 USD . Kiva Zip,a sister organization granting interest-free loans to people in USA and Kenya, accepts loans from as little as $5. Ordinarily you will be repaid- it is such a thrill to get an email saying ‘You have received a repayment of 19 cents!’ When your loan is  repaid, you can claim back the money or relend it again to another person or project.  So for International Women’s Day, I have decided to focus my loans on women in underdeveloped countries, to ‘Make it Happen’ for them. Traditionally these women who have incomes, however small, are empowered to change their lives and educate their children, thereby benefiting their entire communities.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in March 1911. It had its origins in America a few years earlier where women had come together to protest against poor working conditions, resulting in a National Women’s Day being declared by the Socialist Party of America. Subsequently at an International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen, attended by delegates from 17 countries, and including the first 3 women elected to the Finnish Parliament, a proposal to have a special day each year to focus on women’s issues was met with unanimous approval.

Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark observed the first International Women’s Day in March 1911. More than a million men and women attended rallies in support of women’s right to work, right to vote, right to hold public office. In 1913, Russian women observed International Women’s Day campaigning for peace and in 1914, other European countries joined in.

In 1917, amid great unrest in Russia caused by millions of casualties, terrible food shortages, and with many women removed from farms to work in the factories, International Women’s Day prompted 90,00 workers to strike and the army at Petrograd to revolt. Attempts to end the unrest were not successful and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated some days later. The new provisional government granted universal suffrage with equality for women.

Down the decades, the movement has continued to grow and has become a worldwide event, celebrating social, political and economic changes for women, highlighting inequalities and raising money for charity.  In 25 countries it is an official holiday while in China Madagascar and Nepal it is an official holiday for women only. In many countries from Bangladesh to Guinea, from Vietnam to Iceland, from Afghanistan to Zambia, events will take place on March 8th to mark International Women’s Day. The top 5 countries for International Women’s day activity to mark the centenary on March 8th are the UK, Canada, Australia, the United States and Ireland. Details of events across the globe can be found on the International Women’s Day site here.

What better day to log in to  Kiva and make a small loan to help our sisters across the globe!

Happy Women’s Day!

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Filed under International Women's Day, Ireland, Significant World Events, Social Justice

Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?

November 22 1963 was just another day – except that it was  a Friday. Friday was a  special day in our school. It was bath night and the following day being Saturday, there would be only a half day of classes, and we would have Tuckshop. With 11 weeks of the term already passed, we would  get home in another 4 weeks, so life was GOOD. Such were the thoughts of  a 15-year-old boarder in the St Louis Convent,Dún Lughaidh, Dundalk, Co Louth, Ireland on that day.

Three years earlier in November 1960, I had sat up all night with my father watching the results of the American Presidential Election. In a Donegal village, we sat into the small hours in front of our small black and white television watching what has turned out to be one of the most famous American election nights in history. It was the first presidential election in which Alaska and Hawaii  would participate, having become the 49th and 50th states the previous year. More importantly from our perspective, thousands of miles to the east of the USA, we were wondering if the charismatic, young , handsome Irish catholic could possibly be elected to the most powerful office in the world. It was riveting viewing with Kennedy’s initial commanding lead being hoovered up by Nixon as the hours passed. I will always remember that moment in the small hours when ‘Kennedy Wins’ came up  on the screen and my Dad’s total delight at the outcome. ‘ I don’t believe it ‘  I don’t believe it’  he exclaimed!  When he got over the initial excitement and disbelief, he explained to me how significant an event this was  – to have a Roman Catholic man, a man of Irish descent – elected to such high office was a great triumph for Catholics and for Ireland. That Kennedy’s paternal great grandfather had left Wexford in famine times and his maternal great grandfather had left Limerick in the 1850s, made the success even more significant. The Irish had ‘arrived’ and the sense of pride was palpable.

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Inauguration of President John F Kennedy, January 1961. Image Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, in June 1963 President John F Kennedy made the first visit of an American President to Ireland. Thousands flocked to see him and his every move was televised (apparently at his own request, as later transpired).  His young age and his good looks made him an instant ‘pop star’ in Ireland where our own President was in his 80s and speaking of ‘maidens dancing at the crossroads’. This was the first time that many of us had actually heard and realized that an Irish person could be proud of their deprived origins and could succeed. As a consequence,and astonishing as this may seem nowadays, pictures of the revered  and very handsome President  John Fitzgerald Kennedy, sometimes with his wife Jacqueline, were placed on walls in Irish homes alongside religious pictures of The Sacred Heart or of  a favoured Pope.

The Snug, Bradley’s, Barrack Street, Cork. Image courtesy Brian Mac Domhnaill

In this image,  two  pictures  of  John F Kennedy hang on the walls of  The Snug in Bradley’s Bar, Barrack Street Cork. The ‘snug’ as seen here was once the living room of the Bradley home and has remained unchanged despite the change of use. There was once a Sacred Heart picture in this room but that was removed when it became a pub.

Frank O'Donoghues House (5)Another image from Brian MacDomhnaill, whose interest in photographing abandoned houses led to the discovery of this picture of the Kennedy ‘s in an abandoned house in County Carlow. Interestingly, the photograph was taken in the deserted home of a  catholic priest.

Five months after the momentous and triumphant visit to Ireland,on that November Friday, we boarders in Dundalk were enjoying our 7 pm supper. Supper was generally considered the most enjoyable meal of the day in our convent school, where we seemed to be in an almost permanent state of hunger. We probably had  a bowl of baked beans and lots of bread and not so much butter, but the beauty of beans lay in the fact that butter was not required. After supper, we followed our daily routine of filing out of the refectory in total silence and making our way to the convent chapel for rosary. Along the ‘route’ prefects stood to ensure that silence was maintained, with the head girl standing by the window at the entrance to the chapel. As I approached the chapel door, Hanna, the head girl, beckoned me over and whispered to me that President Kennedy had been shot. I was reeling and in disbelief as we filed into our chapel seats but thought it was probably not serious.

At the beginning of prayers, it was announced that President Kennedy had in fact been shot dead. Not only that, but the nun said the consequences were potentially catastrophic with the almost total certainty of World War 3. The inference was that President Kennedy was martyred because he was a Roman Catholic and who but Communists would do such a thing. This, we were told, meant that our brothers and male relations would be called upon to fight the Russians, Catholics against Communists.  The Bay of Pigs missile crisis was still fresh in memory and the Communist threat was never far from our thoughts – didn’t we pray several times a day for the ‘conversion of Russia’?

Our school had 90 boarders aged between 12 and 18 – all of us many miles from home, with the only communication being by letter and a weekly telephone call on the one telephone in the school – a treat for those whose family were fortunate enough to have a telephone at home- many did not. As the Rosary began, someone started to cry. Very quickly,another began sobbing and in a matter of minutes total hysteria had gripped the assembled throng. This was undoubtedly brought about by the shock of the terrible news, but in no small measure by the announcement that  we were at war and all our male relatives – fathers, brothers, uncles, would have to stand up and fight and in all probability be killed. I can still hear the shrieks of one or two girls who were totally traumatized, as we were urged to pray and pray and pray.

My memory of that fateful day is frozen in time in that chapel and it did take several days for us to be reassured that all was well  and that perhaps our male family members were safe. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after the shooting and he himself was shot dead on Sunday November 24.  On the following Monday afternoon we  got to watch the funeral on the school black and white television.  Images that stand out from the event are of the elegant veiled figure of Mrs Kennedy, her two small children the other Kennedy brothers, and the black riderless horse , with boots reversed, signifying the fallen leader.

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President Kennedy’s Family. Image Wikimedia Commons

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The Riderless Horse Image Wikimedia Commons

 A Guard of Honour of Irish Cadets was in attendance from Ireland at the request of Mrs Kennedy.

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Irish Cadets form a Guard of Honour at the graveside. Image Irish Examiner

Many years later I stood at the simple grave of President John F Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery, overlooking the vista of  Washington D.C.  A simple Eternal Flame burns at his final resting place as a lasting memorial.

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By this time  however questions were being posed about the nature of his Presidential Campaign and his personal behaviour Although  his personality has been diminished and his image no longer graces the walls of Irish homes, the myth lives on, frozen in time by an assassins bullet on that Friday, a half  a century ago in November 1963.

Do you remember where you were when you heard that news?

I am very grateful to Brian Mac Domhnaill for sending me his photographs of  the pictures of the Kennedys that hung in Irish homes.

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Irish Traditions, Life in the 1960s, My Oral History, Significant World Events

‘Let’s Roll’: Flight 93, 11 September 2001

On September 11, 2001 United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark, New Jersey, (one of the main New York airports) for  San Francisco, California. It was 8:42 am.   37 passengers and 7 crew settled down for the almost 6  hour flight.  About three-quarters of an hour later, at around half past nine, 4 hijackers  entered the cockpit and took control of the plane.  

Aware that something was wrong, passengers and crew phoned family and friends on the ground and were told that passenger planes had been flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre at 8.46 am and 9.03 am.  A third plane was crashed into the Pentagon Building in Washington D.C. at 9.37 am. Realizing that their flight was in all probability being used for the same purpose, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 decided to take action.

The story of  Flight 93  has been dramatized in the film of the same name and is based on voice recordings and telephone calls made by the passengers and crew to their family and friends on the ground. Passenger Todd Beamer in a telephone conversation with Lisa Jefferson told her that the passengers were going to try to take back control of the plane and according to Lisa, the last words she heard him say were “Are you guys ready? OK.  Let’s roll.” It is thought that they planned on ramming the cockpit door with a service trolley. The last moments of Flight 93 are not known, but at  10.03 am it  crashed with the loss of all on board. The intended destination of the hijackers is not known either, but it was possibly a building in the capital, Washington D.C, only 20 minutes away. The death toll for the awful, world-changing morning of 9/11 was 2,996,  which included the 19 hijackers of the 4 aircraft. Perhaps it may have been higher had Flight 93 reached the destination planned by the hijackers.

On September 9 2001,  I was at my desk in Dublin, Ireland, when at about 2 pm local time  I noticed a news item about a plane having crashed into the World Trade Centre. We  turned on the office  TV and watched the incredible events unfold over the following few hours.

Seven years later, I was privileged to visit the site at Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed – a rural, remote and peaceful place.

911 MemorialAt that time a  temporary memorial had been erected, the  design of the permanent memorial not yet finalized. (Although still not fully completed, the first phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial was completed in time for the 10th anniversary in 2011 and can be seen here.)

100_1104Even as a temporary  memorial, this was a special place, with an eerie silence in spite of the number of visitors. The location is very rural with little signs of habitation, although there are buildings quite nearby on the other side of the hill. One of the images that has remained with me is of the eye -witness descriptions  from workers close by. They told of the plane flying upside down, so low that they ‘could almost count the rivets’,  how it disappeared over the hill,and moments later – silence  – followed by huge  explosions.

100_1101Travelling at 450 -480 m.p.h , Flight 93 crashed at 10.06 am. All on board were incinerated as the thousands of gallons of fuel ignited in a huge fireball. The flight recorders were recovered  from some 25 feet below ground, but no human remains were recovered. It was possible however to confirm the identities of  all 44 persons using DNA  matching.

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At the time of my visit a depression in the ground was the only sign that anything had happened here. Such was the extent of the explosion, debris was spread over an area of about 8 square miles and the largest piece of metal recovered was only 2 feet long.

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There was a stillness about the place that defied the horror of the violence that happened here.  Hundreds of acres were scorched by the fireball, and the surrounding trees burned for several hours.

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The temporary memorial had seats bearing the names of the passengers and crew.

100_1092There was a park ranger in attendance who was able to answer any questions and a book containing key point details of the events on board Flight 93 was available to read.

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Relatives and friends leave mementoes such as flags, caps, messages, jewellery, flowers on a  40 foot memorial ‘wall’. 100_1089These personal tributes, often very poignant,  are carefully collected by the National Park Service.

100_1087At the time of  my visit in October 2008, over a million people had made the pilgrimage to this site to remember those who are seen as having given their lives to save others. The 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93 are generally regarded as national heroes.

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There were 40 wooden angels, one for each of the victims, and a large cross near the perimeter of the memorial which was located about 500 yards from the crash site which is known as  the ‘Sacred Ground’.

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A photograph and short bio of each of the 40 victims can be seen here.

As the 12th anniversary of 9/11 will be on Wednesday of this week, I thought that my pictorial record of the temporary memorial  from 2008 would be an appropriate commemoration of  all those who lost their lives on that fateful day, and most especially to the 40 people on Flight 93 who perished  in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I am grateful to Jane and Bob Noren, my hosts during my visit to the USA in 2008, and in particular to Jane who drove  with me to see  this very special place.

References 

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/08/1060145871380.html

http://www.history.com/topics/flight-93

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_93_National_Memorial

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Filed under My Oral History, My Travels, Significant World Events