Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's low key, but many Irish people will watch the royal wedding

I was in England the past few days, which means I saw and heard a little bit (actually tons) about the impending nuptials between Prince William and Catherine Middleton (aka Will & Kate). Every store is selling Will & Kate stuff and patriotic paraphernalia, such as flag bunting, etc. Every news bulletin is dominated by Will & Kate.

I can't say I got caught up in the excitement, but nor can I say that it annoyed me in any way. What I can tell you is that it didn't come up in any exchange I had with any English people. I didn't raise the topic and nobody I spoke to raised it with me.

So all I can say is that my sense is that English people are pleased by tomorrow's big event, but not generally insanely wild about it no matter what you might see of people camping out near Westminster Abbey or read in USA Today or whatever. I think for a lot of people in England it's a day off {photo: tee shirt that can be seen in England) and the start of a four day weekend, which is always welcome.

What of Ireland and the royal wedding? I don't have a great feel for how much interest there is here. I saw a poll that claimed that four out of every five people here will not tune in to the wedding. At first I thought that sounded reasonable as it's a work day here (south of the border, anyway) and I can't imagine many workers making a big effort to watch the wedding. I'm sure many will steal a few glances if they get a chance.

However, schools are still closed for Easter and I suspect the number of teenage girls who'll watch tomorrow's festivities will be pretty high. The political issues of royalty and monarchy hardly feature in their thinking, but let's face it Kate Middleton is living out the young girl's fantasy: marrying the handsome prince. It's a fairytale wedding and the two are massive celebrities, which only adds to the appeal.

I bet if the polling company had polled teenage girls they'd have found that a lot more than 20% of them will be tuning in tomorrow. Teenage girls aside, I figure the viewing audience here will be higher than the 20% that the poll indicated. I'm not alone in that thinking either. Two of our four national television stations are showing the wedding live, which tells me that the television bosses suspect Irish interest is higher than that poll suggests.

And me? Well, I won't be watching. No, I'm not just saying that. A few weeks back I made an appointment for tomorrow morning to go to the US Embassy to renew my son's passport. I will be in the United States Embassy in Dublin right as the wedding kicks off. I will also be with my wife, who doesn't mind missing the proceedings, because United States law requires both parents sign the passport application in front of the consular officer.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the embassy will be providing live television coverage of the wedding. Given what I've read of American interest in the royal wedding, it's probably not that long a shot.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finding Richard Nixon in County Kildare

Yesterday I experienced something that is all too common for visitors to Ireland: I drove around aimlessly trying to find someplace. I knew I was close to where I wanted to go, but I couldn't actually find the right spot.

I had to go to County Kildare yesterday and when I was done doing what I had to do I decided I'd drive to a few places I was keen to see. One of those places was Bodenstown Churchyard, where Irish nationalist hero Theobald Wolfe Tone* is buried. Wolfe Tone's grave is one of Ireland's national shrines. Or so I thought.

I didn't know where I was going, but I did a quick check on Google Maps to get a good idea and then entered Bodenstown into my GPS as "my destination." Soon I was in Bodenstown, but there were no signs telling me where to go next. At a crossroads I went right and drove for about five miles along a narrow twisty road. Eventually I realized I'd gone wrong and decided to abandon my search for another day when I'm better prepared.

I blame myself for not having sought out the GPS coordinates for Tone's grave before I left, but really I still believe there should be signs especially as I now know that I was only 1,000 yards from the graveyard when I took my wrong turn.

I also wanted to see St. Brigid's Cathedral in Kildare town. As well as the Cathedral, I'd hoped to see the Round Tower that is on the Cathedral's grounds. The Cathedral and tower constitute of one of the prime attractions in the area.

I knew I was going to be near-by, so I figured I go there. Mistake. The Cathedral {photo} is run by the Church of Ireland and they only open the gates to visitors from May through September. I can't say I was devastated when I discovered this, but I sure as heck was happy I hadn't gone far out of my way to visit either. Another day. Maybe.

The last stop on my itinerary was the one for which I had the lowest expectations: Timahoe, Co. Kildare. I had no idea what I might find there, but I knew President Nixon had gone there in the early 70s to visit the home of his Irish ancestors.

Timahoe, like Bodenstown, is not a big place. Village would be overstating things. For that reason I wondered if the local people would acknowledge the Nixon connection. It didn't take me long to realize the answer was 'No'.

I drove from one end of Timahoe to another and saw no mention of Nixon. Seeing as this took less than two minutes I turned around and headed back and took the one turn-off I passed. I drove along an extremely narrow, twisty road through farmland when I came across a "Quaker Cemetery".

There was still no mention of Nixon, but I knew he was a Quaker and thought I'd take a look. Just inside the gate, stood one stone in a small field. The inscription on the stone read: "In Memory of the Irish Quakers of Timahoe, dedicated on October 5, 1970 by Richard Milhous Nixon, President of the United States of America whose maternal ancestors are resting here."

Sure Nixon resigned and all that, but he was President of the United States and the fact that he found his way to Timahoe to dedicate this stone in a field demonstrates that Timahoe meant something to him. He also named his Irish setter King Timahoe. A little reciprocation is in order.

I can't understand why the people of Timahoe don't provide a few signs pointing the way to the Quaker Cemetery. It is a place of at least some interest to Americans. What harm could it do to show people the way? Of course, if the people of Kildare are none too keen to point the way to the burial sites of a national hero I suppose I shouldn't expect an American President's ancestors to get better treatment.

{* Tone's son William served in Napoleon's army. Following Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, William Tone went to America where he served in the American army. He's buried in Brooklyn, as is his mother Matilda, Wolfe Tone's widow.}

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Civil War anniversary sparks new interest in Irish Brigade in Ireland

The American Civil War is in the news lately thanks to the fact it is 150 years since the war started April 12, 1861. Between now and April 15, 2015 we will reaching milestone anniversaries for all the major battles right up to the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination.

From what Americans have been able to enjoy many television documentaries and newspaper articles marking events 150 years ago. People want to learn more about the Civil War just as the bi-centennial celebrations in the 70s sparked a renewed interest in the Revolutionary period.

I hope that some of that will find its way 'across the pond' and that Irish people will find a new interest in the American Civil War, especially the huge Irish involvement. My own sense is that most people here have a vague idea that many Irish men fought in the war, but have little idea as to how many, what motivated them, etc.

So far I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of articles in the newspapers and the radio discussions. An article from the Ulster News Letter is especially good as it's a conglomeration of the coverage the paper provided at the time the war began. Another recent article in the Irish Times told me something about the Civil War that I'd never suspected before: the two armies, especially the Union Army, sent agents to Ireland (& Britain too, I believe) to entice (or con) men to enlist. RTE's premier radio news program did a short item on the Irish in the Civil War this week (audio here).

The best, by far, however, was a TG4 two-part docu-drama Fág an Bealach on the Irish Brigade. {Fág an Bealach was written as Faugh a Ballagh during the Civil War and is a battle-cry - Clear the Way!} You can watch the two episodes here:

Episode 1 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Episode 2 – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The Irish paid a big price during their adopted country's Civil War. It was, however, the making of them as Americans, proved their commitment and loyalty. It would be great to believe that this part of the Irish-American experience at least will become better known in Ireland.

Read more:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time in Ireland will not win votes for President Obama

Here we go again. Despite the fact that people here know a great deal about America, the media, and to a lesser extent the public generally, knows next to nothing about Irish-America. Don't ask me how this can be, but it's true.

Today the Irish Independent declared that President Obama's "popularity is likely to soar among the Irish‑American vote in the US when he addresses the Irish people at a rally in Croke Park."

Now if you voted for candidate Obama and you remain a fan of him today, you're unlikely to have your positive views of him soured by a warm welcome at Croke Park or pictures of him being greeted by (very) distant relatives in Moneygall, County Offaly. If you are not a fan of President Obama today you are very unlikely to change your mind about him because 80,000 Irish people cheer him heartily or you hear some in Moneygall singing "There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama." A serious cringe and an upset stomach are far more likely.

This sort of thing really makes me laugh. There are times when people here talk about Irish‑Americans as if they're children waiting for the lead to be given from the ancestral motherland.

This is bad enough when we're talking about aspects of Irish culture - such as dance or music - but when it comes to American politics you think they'd trust Americans to make up their own minds. But no. A selection of happy shots of people in Ireland applauding Obama is all that's required to get Irish‑Americans to throw their weight behind his campaign for reelection.

Sheesh. Regardless, despite what people here anticipate, I doubt that there will be much coverage of the President's time in Ireland; 60 seconds on the nightly news bulletins and maybe a couple of minutes on daytime CNN is the most I'm expecting. I suspect most of the American press will go straight to Britain, where the President is heading for a state visit after his pit-stop here. {Of course, Irish Central will have EXTENSIVE coverage of his time in Ireland.}

If the weather's good - and it generally is in May - there could be some nice scenic shots of the Irish countryside, which will do the tourism business no harm. A picture of the President looking out of Marine One at Clonmacnoise {photo} in 'his' Co. Offaly would be ideal.

That's all the upside I'm hoping for.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On some maps Ireland looks massive

There are times when I wonder if Irish people have a distorted sense of how big Ireland is. I was reminded of this today by a text from a listener read out on a radio program.

I was listening to a discussion between an Irish presenter, Sean Moncrief, and an American guest when the American confused Ireland as part of the UK.

This sort of thing happens every so often. I don't get fazed by it because I know know a lot of Americans are pretty hazy about the whole Irish-British-English-Scottish-UK thing. Moncrief corrected him and I actually thought the American realized the mistake he'd made. It wasn't a big issue.

A few minutes later Moncrief read out the text, the gist of which was Americans know nothing of world history, only American history, which is ingrained in their minds through the education system. Basically we're a bunch of ignoramuses. {I started getting all huffy about this when Moncrief smoothly indicated the error of the texter's ways.}

As I said, this comes up pretty regularly, but today I just couldn't stop wondering why do people here think Americans should know something about Ireland?

Obviously, Americans with ties to Ireland will know some, maybe even a lot about Ireland, but why would the average American know anything about Ireland? It's a small island with a small population off the coast of Europe. If Ireland was one of the 50 states, it would be about in the middle population wise and in the bottom 20% in terms of land area. Small.

The truth is I think Americans know far more about Ireland than they do about Austria, Honduras, Togo or Azerbaijan, which are all similar in terms of land area and population. Yet people here think Americans should know more.

So I was thinking about why this should be so and came up with two possibilities: (a) Irish people know so much about America that they expect the same in return and (b) it's because of the maps. The first point is true and I'm sure goes some way to explain Irish people's incredulity that Americans know so little about Ireland. But I like my maps theory.

The maps used in Irish classrooms to teach children geography are massive; they make Ireland look huge. Day after day, year after year day-dreaming kids are staring up at the map absorbing the lesson that this is a big place.

I know it sounds silly, but I've met people here who have a good grasp of the distance from Belfast to Cork (215 miles) who somehow think that driving from New York to Orlando would be about the same (1,100 miles).

I remember once having to explain to graduate students that to anyone in America or China or just about anywhere else on Earth the distance between Belfast and Dublin would appear to be practically nothing. It actually took these people - all of them smart - a few minutes to accept what I was saying. If I'd been aware of the giant classroom maps then I'd have told them to banish those memories.

That's a mystery solved. Irish people have a distorted view of Ireland's size and influence - and thus expect others to be knowledgeable about the country - due to the maps used in their schools.

{Map from Ars Magica.}

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

International Cricket body could learn from NCAA

Despite last night's bust of a final, this year's NCAA was great, entertaining even for a casual sports fan. Loads of close games, upsets and a fantastic "Cinderella" story. This year's tournament had it all, except a good final game. {Maybe we'll get that tonight in the women's final along with a Fighting Irish victory, but it's not on live here.}

It's hard to imagine the NCAA tournament without all the small colleges, without those David vs Goliath battles we expect every spring. Yet, it almost happened.

Back in the late 1980s the NCAA wanted to get rid of the automatic entry for the winners of the small college conferences because those teams were simply not competing in the tournament. Then there was the epic Georgetown vs Princeton game in 1989 when Princeton lost 50-49. That game saved the smaller conferences' automatic bids and probably the tournament too.

The NCAA Tournament could hardly be more unpredictable, exciting and unmissable than it is today.

Unpredictable and exciting. What sport, what championship tournament wouldn't want to be unpredictable and exciting?

Well, the World Cup of Cricket, it seems.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), the body that governs world cricket has decided that from now on Ireland and other smaller cricket-playing nations should not be allowed to compete in the next two World Cups, but maybe after that.

That means the Irish team, which memorably beat Pakistan in the last World Cup and even more memorably beat England at this year's tournament, is out of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups before a ball's been bowled (thrown).

The Irish cricket team and organization are not disappointed. They're livid.

The Irish team provided one of the great story-lines in the World Cup with their win over England and with Kevin O'Brien setting an all-time record for run-scoring in the game.

The Irish team generated a lot of interest in cricket here, but also made news everywhere cricket's played. They won many friends among the fans in India where the games were played and even in England, where fans are sportingly outraged that Ireland has been ousted from the next World Cup.

It's such a stupid decision that I can't make sense of it. The sport was gaining in popularity in Ireland, making news where it rarely does (I saw the Ireland vs England game reported in American papers) and so in order to prevent any further developments along those lines the ICC has barred Ireland and the others.

Seven years after that fateful, narrow loss to Georgetown, Princeton beat the defending champions, UCLA, in the first round of the tournament. Just imagine if at that moment the NCAA had opted to oust Princeton and all the other smaller schools from the tournament? We would not have the exciting tournament we have today. We would not have enjoyed Butler's amazing run last year and this nor VCU's astounding success this year.

It would have been an incredibly stupid decision, one that we all know the NCAA never considered. Yet that's essentially what the ICC has just done. Stupid.

{Both pictures found at}