March 7, 2021
LETTER from WICKLOW
By Larry Donnelly
Boston Irish Columnist
WICKLOW, Ireland – In January, this country was rocked by the publication of the final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, which runs to thousands of pages and tells the often harrowing stories of the unmarried mothers and their children who were effectively committed to the homes between 1922 and 1998. Most damningly, the report confirms that approximately 9,000 children died while living in the homes. It recommends that a state apology, redress, and information about birth parents all be granted to the survivors.
In its wake, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that the report “opens a window into a deeply misogynistic culture in Ireland,” sheds light on a “dark, difficult and shameful chapter,” and acknowledges that there had been “a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy and that young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction.” Meanwhile, another prominent politician, Richard Boyd Barrett, himself born into a mother and baby scheme, alleged that the report and the government’s response to it amounted to “a sham, an insult, and a whitewash.”
The recent revelation that the oral testimony of more than 500 witnesses to the commission had been destroyed has compounded the anguish and outrage of the survivors and their advocates. It is questionable if those people who were put through hell for no good reason will ever get the justice they richly deserve. And it is very difficult for those of us who remain observant Catholics to comprehend that the clergy we were taught to revere could have perpetrated such evil. In the 20th century, when our Church exerted near total control over Irish society, some of its deeds were unforgivable. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely. Saddening and sickening in equal measure.
The Irish watched ‘closely, angrily’
as US Capitol was breached by a mob
It is a struggle to find the words to adequately capture the scenes that unfolded on Capitol Hill on January 6. Suffice it to say that it is with a deep sense of shock and shame that from afar I saw fellow Americans do damage to a physical structure and, in the process, seek to unravel our democratic institutions. Regrettably, I couldn’t help but think of how the insurrection of a criminal mob was playing right into the hands of those who loathe the United States. It surely did, yet there was a widespread sympathy and solidarity in Ireland. People watched it both closely and angrily on CNN and were relieved when the threat finally subsided, though not before 5 people lay dead.
Just as the November presidential election made Dorchester’s John King a household name here, the day that will forever live in infamy created another Irish CNN sensation. This time, it was the network’s reporter, Donie O’Sullivan, a proud native of Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry. O’Sullivan’s reporting of events as they transpired was outstanding. He was cool and professional in an environment full of risk and his journalism garnered him plaudits from every direction. A subsequent interview with The Irish Times, in which he spoke candidly of the mental health issues that he has faced in the interest of helping others, is further testament to the quality of Donie’s (as he has become known to all) character.
On the flip side when it comes to character, the outcome of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial flowing from his role as the catalyst for the attack on the Capitol Building was no surprise. The general reaction here was one of disgust that so few Republicans were moved – either by the capable House managers or the dismal Trump defense team. That said, I was surprised that Sen. Cassidy of Louisiana and the retiring Sen. Burr of North Carolina deserted their erstwhile ally and voted to convict.
I am constantly asked what’s next for the 45th POTUS? I don’t have an answer. I do know that there is typically nothing deader than yesterday’s politician. Trump had looked set to buck that truism. But January 6 and the fallout, particularly his ban from social media platforms, make it harder to envisage his playing the prominent role he once looked certain to assume. “The Donald” has proven me wrong before, however.
Hurrahs ring out across Connemara
as Mayo’s Joe taps Galway’s Marty
The nomination of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be Secretary of Labor in the Biden/Harris administration was greeted enthusiastically throughout Ireland and was celebrated joyously in Connemara, his parents’ home turf. As a long-time union member who overcame adversity and has toiled hard for everything he achieved in life, Walsh is an inspired choice. In an America where income inequality and its consequences are omnipresent and where livelihoods have been decimated by Covid-19, he has his work cut out for him. (As an aside, his departure from Boston sets up what should be a fascinating race to succeed him. Buckle up, #bospoli junkies!).
All of us with connections to the west of Ireland were heartened as President Biden, who has family roots in Ballina, Co. Mayo, indirectly referenced the storied rivalry between Galway and Mayo when he announced Walsh’s selection. This is arguably the most Irish presidential administration in American history and it presents tremendous opportunities for all of us committed to deepening a relationship that is already the envy of the rest of that world.
In that context, it is a pity that the pandemic prevents Micheál Martin from getting to the White House this month and that Ireland can’t avail of the endless possibilities a bilateral get-together on March 17 offers. At the virtual meeting that will take its place, I hope the Taoiseach isn’t shy about asserting that the Irish intend to be back on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2022 and that the green carpet is ready anytime Joe Biden wants to come “home.”
February brings the Brrrrrrs,
the pandemic brings the blues
There are very few occasions on which I have been genuinely freezing cold during two decades in Ireland. During February in County Wicklow, there was a week of windy, icy, snowy, frigid weather that necessitated wearing the heavy winter coat that seldom gets taken out and forced me to abandon several of the multiple long walks I use to break up my days of homeschooling Larry Óg and remote working, as well as to get a bit of badly needed exercise. Experiencing Boston-like chills made the ongoing lockdown more exasperating.
Following an explosion in the numbers of persons acquiring and sadly dying from coronavirus when Ireland eased restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, the gates were swiftly shut again as a matter of necessity. This is the third full-scale lockdown and many people, me included, are finding this one harder than the first two. My son hasn’t been in school since the 22nd of December. I haven’t been in a pub or restaurant or hit a golf ball in 2021. Of course, that’s an extremely selfish perspective in light of what others are going through, but I am jealous hearing my pals back in Boston making plans to go for lunch or a few beers.
Here’s hoping we get things under control as soon as possible and we can get some semblance of normality back once and for all – without yo-yoing between opening and closing. Unfortunately, the message from government and the medical experts is that this is far from imminent.
Oh for the days when a ‘ball
and a beer’ were affordable
On a lighter note, speaking of eating and drinking out in and around the city of my birth, I have noticed an astronomical increase in price over the course of a few short years. In those heady days when we in Ireland or visiting tourists could actually go out and enjoy ourselves, I would defy anyone to show me evidence that a night of eating and drinking in Galway City, oft-labelled expensive, approaches the costs of doing similar in the Boston area. It’s now more than $5 for a bottle of Budweiser, before tip, in many suburban establishments. Ten dollar pints of Guinness are common downtown. And even John Stenson’s venerable and very affordable Éire Pub in Dorchester’s Adams Corner isn’t immune to the trend. Last week on Twitter, I noticed a “special” for two hot dogs and chips for $6. While that and other tasty treats sounded fantastic to someone who’s homesick, what happened to the dollar dogs?!
I know six bucks isn’t a lot. Plus, it’s a long distance from the most egregious examples I could point to. I also recognize that the public health crisis has severely impacted bars and restaurants and that operating expenses are huge. But I would think that bargains might be the best way to entice wary customers to get back out and to spend. A night out shouldn’t be the preserve of high income earners.
At any rate, what I wouldn’t give to be a customer for a few days at my favorite haunts in town, in Dorchester or in Quincy, catching up with friends and complaining about what has changed and keeps changing since I’ve been away from my old stomping grounds, especially the skyrocketing prices. God knows when that will be…Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Larry Donnelly is a Boston born and educated attorney, a Law Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway and a regular media contributor on politics, current affairs, and law in the US and Ireland. You can follow him on Twitter at @LarryPDonnelly.