Loyalists Finally Begin Disarming

After months of delays and outright resistance to pleas from the British government, two of the more notorious loyalist paramilitary groups have finally begun decommissioning their weapons. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) have been threatened with a variety of sanctions by London but many members of the outlawed groups pointed to the resurgent threat and attacks by breakaway republicans as a rationale for holding on to their arms. That impasse has apparently been resolved, or at least eased.

The Provisional IRA completed decommissioning all its arms in 2005. The British have allowed the loyalists groups to defer the annual deadline for decommissioning each year since 2000.

Early unconfirmed reports are claiming that Canadian General John de Chastelain and independent monitors were on hand to witness the decommissioning, but there has been, at press time, no official confirmation and General de Chastelain has issued no statement. Clouding the loyalist move to comply with the decommissioning order are rumors that a deal has been struck between them and the British government to allocate "development and job creation" funds (up to $15 million) to deprived unionist areas.

The Irish Independent newspaper reported the stunning news on June 21 that Martin McAleese, husband of Irish President Mary McAleese, has used his considerable rapport with the leadership of at least one loyalist paramilitary group to help broker an unofficial deal that could produce financial incentives, as noted above, following tangible moves to place UVF and UDA weapons "beyond use."

Not everyone is convinced that the loyalists are acting in good faith but others, like Sinn Fein's Stormont junior minister Gerry Kelly, have supported the claims, saying "It's a great move forward. There have been a number of false starts; there is some indication that this is the real thing."

Boys Town Founder Warned Irish On Abuse – While reverberations from the recently released Ryan Report on child abuse in Catholic schools and institutions continues roiling the Irish people, a new revelation has surfaced detailing warnings to the Irish Church from Nebraska back in 1946: Boys Town founder Father Edward Flanagan called the situation of child abuse in Ireland "a disgrace to the nation."

Father Flanagan, the Roscommon-born Catholic priest who founded the famed Nebraska landmark Boys Town in 1921, became a world renowned authority on children and their rehabilitation and visited a number of countries as a guest lecturer. In 1946, near the end of his life, he visited his native Ireland where he toured Irish reform schools and other facilities for troubled young people. His horrified reaction was immediate and scathing. He called the schools "a scandal, un-Christ-like, and wrong." While he had the support of many in Ireland, including Maude Gonne MacBride, Father Flanagan had neither the support of the Irish Catholic Church nor of the government of the day. Justice Minister Gerald Boland, one of many critics of Father Flanagan within the Irish establishment, was dismissive, saying he was "not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country, because his statements were so exaggerated I do not think people would attach any importance to them."

It may be a harsh assessment some six decades after Father Flanagan's initial criticism of Ireland's reform schools and similar institutions, but the lengthy history of punishment and abuse that endured into the 1990s was a direct result of the complacency and smugness and entrenched old boy network that was backstopped by the twin forces of the Catholic Church and the de Valera government. The evil legacy, years too late, is finally being addressed, but the toll over the long years has been horrific.

Commencement Clip – John Patrick Shanley, the Bronx-born playwright and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Doubt" as well as the director of the last year's film version with Meryl Streep, had the following to say as the recent commencement speaker at Mt. St. Vincent College in Riverdale, New York:

"Not to bring up something upsetting, but when you leave here today, you may go through a period of unemployment. My suggestion is this: Enjoy the unemployment. Have a second cup of coffee. Go to the park. Read Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman loved being unemployed. I don't believe he ever did a day's work in his life. As you may know, he was a poet. If a lot of time goes by and you continue to be unemployed, you may want to consider announcing to all appropriate parties that you have become a poet."

Sinn Fein Hosts US Unity Conferences – The first of two Sinn Fein scheduled U.S. conferences on Irish Unity took place in New York in mid-June with party president Gerry Adams and others speaking. A second conclave is set for late June in San Francisco. The New York meeting was described as "communicating a new phase of activism in the USA." Or as Gerry Adams labeled it, "the beginning of a new phase of our struggle."

In 2010 the Irish Unity conferences will travel across the Irish Sea to England, Scotland, and Wales in an effort to get the Irish there and likely pro-nationalist allies on board the drive for Irish unity.

While there was some talk following the Good Friday Agreement that the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in 2016 would make an ideal time to achieve a truly united 32-county Ireland, there has been some backtracking on that suggested timeline. In any event, the Sinn Fein outreach serves the party interests in several ways. It keeps the faithful energized, helps enrich Sinn Fein's treasury ,and continues to elevate the party's public profile, especially following the lackluster performance in the Republic by Adams and Company in the recent election.

Did You Know … that Guglielmo Marconi, the son of an Irish mother and an Italian father, established three wireless telegraph stations in Ireland in the early days of the 20th century? The experimental sites were in Clifden, Ballybunion, and Letterfrack. In March 1919, the first telephone transmission was made between Europe and America by Marconi. In 1909 Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, sharing it with Karl Braun of Germany.


Ireland'S Office of Tobacco Control is reporting that 97 percent of Ireland's workplaces are fully compliant with the tobacco ban introduced five years ago. … Ailing U.S. Senate patriarch Ted Kennedy has recorded a 30-second television commercial for his old pal, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who is hurting in the polls at home over his financial dealings. Loyalty runs deep in the Kennedy clan. … There will be a gay civil union bill in Ireland enacted before the end of this year, despite gay objections that it doesn't go far enough. … A new national wax museum has opened in Dublin's Bank of Ireland Arts Centre on College Green, replacing an earlier version that closed in 2005. … Irish banks having enough problems getting back on their feet after years of prolificacy are now faced with trying to persuade their senior bank officials to repay hundreds of millions in overdue, semi-legal loans. … Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam, who lived with a brain tumor during her courageous battle in the search for peace in Ireland, will be the subject of a so-called Bio-Pic television movie set to be aired early next year starring British actress Julie Walters. … All the House Democrats in the Massachusetts Legislature either voted for Sal DiMasi or voted present in the January vote for speaker except Billerica representative and veteran town official William Greene, who stood alone. He voted for himself. … Local Irish elections unseated a number of city, town, and county councillors who will benefit from a generous lump sum "retirement gratuity" from a pot of $8 million. Individual payments range from $5,000 to $60,000 each. … The Irish are not traveling as much these days to North America and one reason could be that the best deals by Aer Lingus are offered for flights originating in the United States, with higher fares for the Irish flying outbound. … An alleged spy for Cuba who was a 30-year veteran of State Department intelligence operations was reputedly upset that he didn't get to succeed Mitchell Reiss in 2003 as the White House envoy to Northern Ireland How bizarro is that! … Ireland's dueling national political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are at each other's throats in Dublin's Leinster House, but the two have joined in a pact to control local politics for the next few years in Galway City. … The Fianna Fail coalition government survived a Dail vote of confidence by just six votes last month and it would surprise the Irish political world if the present ruling coalition lasts beyond the spring of 2010 following the party's embarrassment in the recent local elections.

Sports Quiz – The following three men in a major American sport distinguished themselves in a special way. What was the achievement that allowed Mickey Welch, Tim Keefe, and Pud Galvin to join a rarified list of only 21 other players who accomplished this feat in the history of their sport? (Answer near the end of the column)

Irish Mourn Air France Loss – They came from County Down in the North and Tipperary in the Irish midlands and cosmopolitan Dublin. The three met at Trinity, became friends, and graduated together from medical school in 2007. They were not yet 30 but each was trained and prepared for a life of service and a sharing of their healing skills The loss of those three bright, vital, committed, and confident young women was for the people of Ireland and those who saw their pictures in the Irish papers the face of instant heartbreak. The mid-Atlantic crash of Air France Flight 447 that cost 228 lives in as yet unexplained freakish accident took away Aisling Butler, Jane Deasy, and Eithne Walls. We grieve for them. Forever young and together, and their fellow passengers. All equal in death's embrace.

I know it will probably be a while more before I stop seeing those faces.

Update on UM 'Cities' Conference – The good folks at Padraig O'Malley's office at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at Umass-Boston report a huge success at their spring conference. The delegates to the Forum for Cities in Transition agreed to a number of collaborative projects and have initiated plans to meet yearly to pursue mutually agreed goals.

A stunning outcome of the forum in Boston is the agreement of the leaders of the divided city of Mitrovica, with Serbs in the north and Albanians in the south, to jointly host as a "united city" next year's Forum for Cities in Transition following up on this year's success at the McCormack School.

The university has indicated its support of the forums and its recognition of the success of the 2009 conference organized by Professor O'Malley by awarding its prestigious Chancellor's Medal to the leaders of the two delegations from Mitrovica, Sadri Ferati and Dragan Spasojevic. Previous recipients include Queen Silvia of Sweden, Senator Kennedy, and Bay State Governor Deval Patrick.

Teddy Bear Alert – The ever reliable Danbury Mint in Norwalk, Connecticut, has another Irish special and off past performance it won't disappoint what I call the Kinkade Korps. The faithful who buy this ethnic pandering junk, mesmerized into paying top dollar for over-hyped schlock, have another opportunity to indulge themselves. This time around it's "Danny Boy, The Irish Bear," described by Danbury as the Mint's very first Irish bear, "a special ambassador who brings Irish luck year 'round." The good people at the Danbury have even gone to the expense of handsomely embroidering the "famed Danbury Mint logo to the bottom of his furry right paw." Be still my heart!

This 10-inch-high wee bear with his "cute-as-can-be button eyes and the adorable little black nose" is "favorably priced" (their words) at only $69 plus $7.80 shipping. There's more turgid advertising copy but what lingers for this mail recipient is the "green floppy hat with its shamrock shape that says it all: "Kiss me, I'm Irish." Originality is obviously not Job One at Danbury.

This is an ugly little bear made of "plush material" (again their words, whatever it means)) that could be replicated (sans hat, sweater, and imitation Claddagh jewelry, etc.), it says here, for a fraction of the advertised price. If you are of a mind to celebrate your Irishness, have a pint or better donate to Concern or another Irish charity working to save some kids in the Third World. Give Danny Boy a pass.

Live & Let Live – I must admit that I heard the news with mixed emotions. Inch Beach in seaside Kerry; Inch Strand, where Ryan's Daughter cavorted with her British soldier in the 1970 David Lean movie; Inch Beach, where one can sit outside sipping a Guinness above and hear the children's laughter over the roar of the waves. Inch Strand, where my cousin Dan, God rest him, from a few miles up the road in Castlemaine took us to show off what he considered the best of County Kerry.

Now I learn that the Irish Naturist Association (INA) has repeated its call for a "clothing optional" beach facility at Inch Strand. According to the naturist, or nudist, group, Inch has been used informally for years by its members. Now the INA is seeking official permission. Association president Pat Gallagher, pushing the same buttons every housing development impresario uses in Ireland these day, talks about a naturist area at Inch that could be "worth a fortune" to the local economy. Gallagher also tells the unanointed like myself that several Kerry beaches are already being used for "natural sunbathing." Our Mr. Gallagher talks about not using central Inch beach but maybe a thousand yards away from where the general public swims. A sign or two would do the trick, he says.

Maybe he's right, maybe he's not. Is it what the locals want? I don't know. Tough call.

From Fenway to Merrion Square – You've seen their sign at Fenway Park, Covidien, an offshoot of the Tyco Corporation in its heyday. Covidien is a hugely successful healthcare company that employs 41,000 people in 59 countries. It has local offices in Mansfield, Mass. which only partly explains the strong links between this highly profitable ($10 billion in revenue in 2008) corporation and our Red Sox. The good news is that Covidien has completed the transfer of its corporate home from Bermuda to Ireland, where it already has four factories and where it has operated for nearly 30 years. IDS and the Irish government have to consider Covidien incorporating in Ireland as a coup, a source of welcome good news in today's scary global economic climate.

The CEO, president, and chairman of Covidien, Richard Meelia likes the move: "Ireland has a stable business, legal, and regulatory environment, and enjoys strong relationships as a member of the European Union."

Quiz Answer: The three baseball pitchers all won 300 games or more in the major leagues with Welch posting 307, Keefe 342, and Galvin 365. Only 24 pitchers have 300 victories or more.

A Huge Loss – Dave Burke of Lawrence died on May 27, just as he lived: with courage, a ready helping hand for others, a smile and a quip and no whine or whys, always looking ahead to his next project. Dave was someone I looked up to. No false moves, no make believe, just Dave. He was a mensch, a doer, a persistent buzz-saw of volunteer spirit. There wasn't anything he couldn't do if the cause was right and he put his mind to it.

I was proud to count Dave as a friend, but it was more than that. I was a 25-year certified admirer of this wonderful, generous, charitable, and committed man. Dave was New England's finest. His concern for others, his enormous heart and his unflagging support for Ireland and the cause of justice there constitute a legacy that few, if any, of his contemporaries can hope to match.

Thanks, Dave!