Friday, August 31, 2012

Tough job for Irish police with 35,000 Americans in Dublin for Notre Dame vs Navy

Irish police provided excellent security during the 2011
visits of the Queen and President Obama.
Notre Dame and Navy have arrived in Dublin ahead of Saturday's opener to their college football seasons. Their fans are in town too. The papers say 35,000, but it seems like a lot more than that. There is a great, celebratory atmosphere in Dublin. It's fantastic.

I never doubted that those traveling from America would enjoy themselves in Dublin. It's not hard to entice Irish people to join in when a party arrives on their doorstep. There may not be a million college football fans in Dublin, but everybody here understands pre-game and post-game enjoyment. The Irish are famous in soccer and rugby circles for knowing exactly how to do these things.

The mood couldn't be lighter and I'm certainly not of a mind to dampen down that mood. However I want to spare a thought for the few people in and around Dublin who are probably feeling a lot more tense thanks to the presence of all these Americans, including thousands of United States Navy personnel - those charged with guaranteeing security over this weekend.

Obviously, there'll no real trouble from any of the visiting Americans and no serious trouble from Irish people either. That's one of the key reasons why the atmosphere around Dublin is good. Everybody knows there will be no trouble.

However, Ireland is part of Europe and as easily as the American fans traveled to Ireland so could those twisted few who belong to groups like al Qaeda. Of course, Ireland has had its own, so far thankfully light, brush with al Qaeda terrorism.
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Irish people have great faith in the gardaí and with good reason. Last year's visits of the Queen and President Obama went off without a hitch. Security was tight and effective. I'm sure the gardaí, Ireland's police force, with help from their colleagues in other European police forces have been working on their security arrangements for this weekend since this game was formally announced.

Yet, protecting one very important visitor is a different proposition to protecting thousands of visitors, especially when they're scattered throughout the city. The fact that the Americans will be so easy to identify, especially those in green pants or Navy uniforms, doesn't help the gardaí.

Tomorrow's game would be an obvious target if you were up to no good, but I expect security to be very tight around the stadium. I'm sure the gardaí have that well in hand. Same goes for the area around the USS Fort McHenry, which is in town as part of the Navy's Emerald Isle Classic celebration. Plus, the Navy knows how to protect its ships when in a foreign port.

I'm sure the gardaí are so prepared the they're unworried by either the game or the ship. No, I bet if anything is causing them restlessness it's all those fans wandering around Dublin, with the words "We're Americans" pretty much tattooed on their foreheads.

I expect the eyes under those peaked blue police caps will be keenly focused wherever groups of Americans gather. And come Monday morning I expect no one will be happier to see the American visitors happily on their way than those charged with protecting them this weekend.

{Photo thanks to the Irish Independent.}

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Navy war dead in Ireland need some attention from those traveling for Notre Dame game

Headstone in Cobh, Co Cork graveyard
with details on death of 2 American
sailors during WW1.

Photo: thanks to
This was first published at

The other day I wrote that I thought the Navy had flubbed its mission to Ireland, isn't reaching out enough, using soft power to win some points with the Irish people. In particular, I thought the Navy isn't doing enough to highlight the links between Ireland and the US Navy, but rather is leaving the "Irish links" domain entirely to Notre Dame.

Yesterday I learned that the Navy is bringing the USS Fort McHenry to Dublin and they're allowing people to tour the ship. I know my son would absolutely love that so I entered the lottery for tickets to join a tour. Fingers crossed.

That is good, but I still think the Navy could have done so much more. However, there is one thing they can help get done that should be done.

A few years ago I wrote about an unmarked grave containing three American sailors in a graveyard in Cobh (formerly Queenstown), Co Cork. I got that story from a documentary on Ireland's national television station, however I now suspect that story isn't actually accurate.*

However, there are two Americans buried in Cobh's Old Church Cemetery, both of whom died while serving with the Navy during WWI.

One of the two lies in a grave with a headstone (see above) that is in serious need of a cleaning. The stone reads:

Sacred to the memory of our shipmates James H. Bush US Navy born 11/11/1889 at Brockton, Mass. Accidentally drowned Aug. 4th 1917 and William P. Baker U.S. Navy born 9/9/1899 at Branswick, Cal. Lost at sea Oct. 23rd 1917 body not recovered. Erected by the Officers and Crew of the U.S.S. “Wainwright”.
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The other man lies in a grave nearby. An unmarked grave. Seaman Second Class William H Mansfield, who died of the flu on October 26, 1918 while serving on the USS Utah. Mansfield was from Richmond, KY. {Mansfield's address is given as 133 Estill Avenue and his next of kin as his father William Thomas Mansfield. Interestingly, Willie Thomas Hammons, also a Seaman Second Class, died in a naval hospital in Scotland in October 1918 and he gave his next of kin as his mother Cora Elmore Mansfield, also of 133 Estill Avenue in Richmond, KY. The two men enlisted on the same day in May 1918 in Louisville. They died five days apart. Half brothers? Cousins?}

Mansfield deserves a headstone, a proper military headstone on his grave. That he died of the flu is of no matter. Most of the Navy's casualties during the war were due to the flu.

Thanks to the work of the American Legion Ireland, the Fr Francis Duffy Post, these omissions have been put right often in recent years. Now they have another mission. They could probably use a little help and with all the Navy brass that will be here this weekend for the football game that help his here now.

It would be great if someone from the Navy's traveling delegation to Ireland this weekend were to find out about William Mansfield's unmarked grave and get ball rolling when they get back stateside. A proper military headstone needs to be requisitioned immediately. While they're at it they can organize for the stone on Bush's grave to get a good cleaning and/or maybe request a proper military headstone for that grave too.

* I want to thank Aileen Walsh of Cobh Town Council who took my rumors about the three sailors in an unmarked grave and then spent quite a bit of time going through old registers to turn those rumors into the hard facts on Bush, Baker and Mansfield.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Navy should be celebrating Irish links ahead of Saturday's game in Dublin vs Notre Dame

John King, who was from County Mayo,
 won 2 Medals of Honor.
{Photo thanks to}
Navy plays Notre Dame this weekend in Dublin. Compared with the last time Dublin played host to a college football game - the same two teams - there is a lot more interest here in Ireland. The Irish media is paying a lot more attention and there is a lot more general awareness about the game.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that the game is being tied to the government's plans for a big Irish family reunion in 2013, but also thanks to the interest in football generally thanks to the presence of the NFL (especially) and college football on cable television.

Of course Notre Dame is the key to much of the local interest. In fact, it's all about Notre Dame, which isn't all that surprising.

The Fighting Irish are bringing most of the visiting (and spending!) fans, but the college has done a lot to develop its Irish links over the past 20 years. Although you might not realize it, the name Notre Dame didn't mean all that much to most people here until recently. Now many - most? - Irish people know Notre Dame and know it's an important institution in Irish America.
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So Notre Dame is coming to Dublin and will overwhelmingly be the 'home team,' although it's officially a Navy home game. That was always going to be the case, but the Navy could have, should have, done more to promote its Irish links, which are a lot older than Notre Dame's.

They could have started with John Barry, "the father of the American Navy," who was from Wexford. Barry's story is too little known here and in America and the Navy missed an opportunity to give a boost to the man George Washington trusted to be the first to lead the United States Navy. {I've mentioned this before, but I had hoped that Saturday's game would be known as the John Barry Bowl, but such a name doesn't have the same marketing appeal as the Emerald Isle Classic. I guess.}

There is also the fact that it was just off the coast of Ireland, near Carrickfergus, that John Paul Jones captured HMS Drake, the first British ship captured by the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. Surely the Navy could have marked the occasion with a lot of fanfare and a little ceremony celebrating Jones up in County Antrim.

There are many other links, including Clare's John Holland, who invented the submarine. And what about Mayo's John King, who won two Medals of Honor during the early years of the 20th century. There is a statue of King in Ballinrobe. The Navy could have gone to Mayo to honor King. After all they named a ship after him in the 70s so sending a small party to his hometown would have been entirely appropriate.

But the strongest link of all is in County Cork, where the United States Navy had a base during WW1. For two years the United States Navy called Queenstown (now Cobh) home while it waged war on the Kaiser's reich. Although Cobh was the primary base for the Navy, American ships were also based at Berehaven. There were also Naval Air bases all along the south coast and an American Naval hospital at Cobh (Queenstown).

Saturday's game is in Dublin. Dublin is getting most of the attention from the arriving fans. Cork would have been thrilled to get a Navy delegation - or two! The people of Cork would have adopted the Navy for the game. It would have been a case of "Fighting Irish" be damned if only to be different than Dublin.

I know there are all sorts of political, geopolitical even, concerns when it comes to the Navy, but they're coming here to play a football game. It's a great opportunity to for some soft power, light diplomacy and a little bit of a history lesson, one that both Irish and American people could get something from. There should be more to the Navy's mission in Ireland than a "W" on Saturday.

{Let me add, if the Navy is doing any of these things they're doing it with almost no publicity.}

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Irish heritage sites have to make Irish people feel welcome

The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary. Ancient cathedral/castle
built on a site where, tradition has it, St Patrick converted the
King of Munster in the 5th century.
A recent survey on Irish heritage sites indicated that a quarter of Irish people visit heritage sites "frequently," which surprises me to be honest. In fact, I don't believe that at all.

The same survey indicated that the prehistoric passage tomb at Newgrange in County Meath is the country's most important heritage site. That doesn't surprise me because if there's one thing that makes Newgrange different from many of the country's other sites is that Irish people go there in large numbers. In my experience that isn't the case with some of Ireland's other historic jewels.

A few weeks back I went to the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. It was my first time there in many years and I still can't get over how much I learned and enjoyed myself there.

The Rock of Cashel is simply fantastic. I know there seem to be a lot of places like this in Ireland and if you're on a limited vacation schedule you might not fit them all in, but if you can get to Cashel, do it.

My family and I had a great time, thanks in large part to the tour guide who did a very good job explaining the history and architecture of "The Rock."
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The only negative - and it's not a big one, more of a nagging annoyance - was that the Irish-born in my traveling party (all but me) felt during the tour that the Rock of Cashel was for tourists and not Irish people.

It was subtle and more down to the tone than the actual words spoken, especially at the start of our visit, but there was a sense that we were in a tourist trap more than a place of real significance. The Rock of Cashel is not Bunratty Folk Park (although that has its pluses too, but it is primarily for tourists).

It's a little difficult to phrase because I'm not really being critical or at least I don't have an easy answer to the problem, which is that the tour was clearly designed for a non-Irish audience. Our tour guide at Cashel did a very good job of explaining the history of the Rock, the importance of the various parts of the structure, etc. but his entire talk made it obvious that Irish people were not his audience.

Again, I'm not criticizing him because he was good and I assume he was working mostly from a script that those who run the Rock of Cashel provide for their tour guides. And he wasn't wrong. Of the 25 or so on the tour there were only four or five Irish people and three of those were my family. Most of the group probably was pretty unfamiliar with Ireland and its history.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: our guide explained that Cashel was the seat of the King of Munster, "which is the most southern of Ireland's four provinces." Every Irish person knows that. I daresay that a large percentage of Irish-Americans know that. If I had heard that when I was a young, visiting Irish-American tourist I'd have been a little annoyed to be thought so ignorant of the basics of Irish geography.

My 17-yr-old daughter was incensed. She wanted to leave the tour right then. Yet if the guide had inserted "for those of you not from Ireland" it would have had a completely different impact. It would have been perfectly acceptable. There were a lot of similar phrases where it was obvious the tour guide expected his audience to know next-to-nothing (at most) about Ireland.

I have experienced this sort of thing before. Yet I don't blame the tour guides for it happening. They know their audience and it rarely includes Irish people. That's the shame of it. Irish people don't go to a lot of their own heritage sites so those in charge of the sites run them as tourist destinations. Or maybe Irish people don't go to the heritage sites because they know that they'll be treated as tourists and they don't like that. I don't know which it is, but it's a shame regardless.

As a comparison, try to imagine the Statue of Liberty or Independence Hall or the Washington Monument being explained to those visiting as if they don't know the basics of American history or geography. It just would never happen. Wouldn't happen at the Tower of London or Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris either.

Now if this was a one-off I wouldn't mention it, but it happens regularly. As I said, it's only a minor quibble, but I do think that fixing this would make the sites more attractive to Irish visitors. Make them feel less like only 'foreigners go there.' I also think tourists prefer to visit places that the local native population values highly and visits regularly. Tourists like authenticity and the native population's presence is proof of authenticity.

Ideally Irish people will visit their nation's fantastic heritage sites more often and force a change, but short of that the people who are in charge of the Rock of Cashel and other important sites need to explain Ireland's history and geography in a way that doesn't insult those Irish people who do go. That "céad míle fáilte" they all start with should be directed at Irish people too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gold medal for Katie Taylor cost Irish taxpayer close to $400,000

Katie Taylor captured Ireland's only gold medal
at the London Olympics.
{Photo thanks to Reuters}
Did you see Monday's pictures from Bray, Co Wicklow? Tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate Katie Taylor's Olympic gold in boxing. There were similar scenes in other Irish hometowns of the country's successful Olympians.

Ireland's national television station, RTE, provided quite a bit of coverage of these events and undoubtedly will provide even more from today's national "homecoming" event in Dublin. Tremendous stuff. These local celebrations and the big one in Dublin cost a bit, but it's only a small sum and what taxpayer would quibble when the public mood is so keen on these celebrations?

Well, maybe me.

Although the truth is I don't have a big problem with these events. The public joy over Katie Taylor's success in her hometown, where I happen to live, is universal. Taylor, or I should say Katie as us locals refer to her, is a source of real pride to the people of Bray. {I'm still not comfortable with women's boxing, but I admire the way she conducts herself as an athlete and as a person.}

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What irks me, however, is the amount of taxpayers' money that goes to pay the athletes Ireland sends to the Olympics.

The Irish government pays €40,000 ($50,000) annually to each of Ireland's elite "high performance" athletes. This year there are 27 such athletes, some of whom actually did well in London and won medals. Katie Taylor is one of the 27 and she has received almost €300,000 ($370,000) in government funding (aka our money) since 2005.

Why? What does the Irish taxpayer get for this investment? After all, our government is bankrupt. Maybe the view is 'what's another few million euros into the vast debt pit in which we find ourselves?'

Don't get me wrong, it's not just Taylor. And at least she won a medal and set up Monday's happy day in Bray. Boxer Paddy Barnes, who got €40,000 this year and has received over €200,000 ($250K) in total, won a bronze and is the toast of Belfast.

Track athletes Olive Loughnane and Derval O'Rourke have received sums similar to Taylor, but neither of them was near a podium finish in London. Clay Pigeon Shooter Derek Burnett has received €270,000 ($330,000) and finished his Olympics in 46th place (I think). David Gillick has received similar money and didn't even make it to London.

There are boxers, cyclists, sailors, canoeists, archers and others receiving government money to compete in their sports. Why? What public benefit do we get for this money?

A crowd of up to 20,000 fans greeted Katie Taylor in her
hometown of Bray, Co Wicklow on Monday.
{Photo thanks to the Irish Times.}
I fully understand what the politicians get from spending our money in this way. They will be indirectly claiming credit for Ireland's Olympic medals, trying to cash in on the feel-good vibe the medal-winners provided. I'm sure they're keen to be seen on the stage in Dublin with the athletes later today. Of course, there will be no shots of any of them with the David Gillicks on the payroll. (And I don't know his story. He could well have been injured, but that only begs further questions as to how the government chooses who to fund, etc.)

The old amateur ideal of the Olympics is long dead. The International Olympics Committee makes a ton of money on the games. Let them pay the athletes who compete. I mean, nobody asks the taxpayer to pay the salaries of those who play in the NFL, NBA or English Premier League.

Besides, Katie Taylor is worth a whole lot more than €40,000 to the IOC. She is a tremendous advertisement for the Olympics. Not only should they pay her, but they should give her a huge raise.

I love sports. I watched a lot of the Olympics and rooted for the Irish competitors. Regardless I don't understand why the public should be so keen to pay the athletes who compete. Are we that desperate to see a medal hanging over a green jersey and the Irish flag flying from a stadium roof?

I'm not. I can endure, even enjoy, an Irish-medals-free Olympics.