Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Irish government minister wants us to be mature enough to accept we're only children

Róisín Shortall – Minister of State in the Irish
government. She 'knows' the Irish people 
need to be minded by the state.
{Photo from}
The sale of alcohol in Ireland is declining, but a new survey has allowed Róisín Shortall, a Minister of State in the Irish government, to declare that it is "crucial people reduce their level of alcohol consumption."

If Shortall had said that it is "crucial that those people who drink too much reduce their level of alcohol consumption" I wouldn't have a problem with her. That isn't good enough for Shortall, however. No Shortall doesn't care about the statistics, is convinced that Irish people drink too much and wants to punish us all for the sins of the few.

On Monday Shortall said, "We need to move towards a much more mature approach to life" by which she means we need to grow up and accept that we're babies and that the state needs to mind us. As far as Shortall's concerned the Irish people are not adult enough to judge for themselves how much alcohol they should drink.
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Although Shortall hasn't got her proposal past her cabinet colleagues yet, her wish is set a minimum price for alcohol and, thus, eliminate the cheapest beer and wine. Cheap beer is the problem as far as Shortall is concerned, not a lack of self-control among some drinkers.

Shortall has company in her belief that the people must be "mature" enough to realize they're immature. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's war on large sodas, iced coffees, whatever is part of the same "we know what's best for you and we're going to force you to accept that" mentality. These are the new Puritans determined to legislate against human weakness.

Just as there are people in New York who are too heavy there are Irish people who drink too much. I wish they didn't drink too much. Regardless I the state should not use the force of law to try and stop them because (a) a minimum price for alcohol will almost certainly not accomplish anything, (b) it's wrong to punish those who can enjoy an inexpensive beer or glass of wine and (c) it's not the state's place to stop people getting drunk, unless they become a public nuisance.

Shortall isn't only targeting cheap beer and wine. She would like to see an end to alcohol companies sponsoring sporting events. She also had a go at a go at Guinness and it's Arthur's Day celebration, which despite the fact it's a contrivance is also promoting a successful Irish exporting employer and attracts tourists to the country. Enda Kenny needs to take Shortall aside and tell her it's time to be mature and forget her crusade and stop knocking one of the few Irish success stories.

By all means Shortall should encourage people to "drink responsibly" (a.k.a. less) and lead a campaign in schools aimed at teens to warn of the dangers of alcohol. They are, after all, children and can be handled as such. I am not nor are any of the other of the country's adults. Stop treating us as if we were.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Irish Brigade at Antietam - passing on the stories of the Irish in America

Men of the 'Fighting 69th,' an Irish Brigade regiment.
{Photo from the 69th NYSV Historical Association}
Monday was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history. On September 17, 1862 the Union and Confederate armies met in a wicked, and ultimately, indecisive battle in western Maryland that left over 20,000 Americans dead or wounded.

Given the large number of Irishmen who saw action in the American Civil War, that day must also rank up there as one of the bloodiest days for the Irish. General Francis Meagher's Irish Brigade, which included a portion, by no means all of the Irish who fought in the war, was in the thick of some of the deadliest fighting.

By chance I was in Albany, NY on Sunday and went to a lecture on the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War given by Siena College History Professor Tom Kelly (retired). Professor Kelly's talk ranged over the entire war, but as he pointed out that the Irish Brigade really made its name at two battles: Antietam and Fredericksburg.

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Compared with Gettysburg, no one goes to Antietam

Photograph of  dead Confederate
soldiers at the 'Bloody Lane'
after the Battle of Antietam.
{Photo from
Early in the war the Irish Brigade earned a reputation for valor and discipline in battle (and indiscipline and intemperance in camp.) Of course when a unit gets a 'good reputation' it is then often assigned to undertake the toughest jobs. That was the case for the Irish Brigade.

At Antietam the Irish Brigade was tasked with attacking Confederate troops, who were massed in a natural trench, a 'sunken road' created by man and nature over hundreds of years. Both the Irish Brigade attackers and the Confederate defenders suffered terribly.

When the battle was over the number of Confederate dead in the sunken road led to it being renamed as "Bloody Lane." The Irish Brigade's dead and wounded were also numerous and spread over a small bit of the large field immediately in front of the Bloody Lane. Half of the thousand men who went into battle that morning were dear or wounded by the day's end.

Professor Kelly had all of our attention as he relayed these details. I was standing in the back from where I could see that the audience was intensely interested in what he had to say.

I was late to arrive and like many couldn't get a seat for the talk. The event was in the Irish American Heritage Museum in downtown Albany and it attracted a lot more people than they were anticipating.

The  'Sunken Road' or 'Bloody Lane'
as it appears today.
Despite the size of the (admittedly mostly older) crowd, when one of the Museum's executives addressed us at the end he expressed a fear that interest in 'our Irish heritage' is waning, especially among the young. Like most who were there I was vaguely nodding my head in agreement. Yet later on when I was thinking about it I wondered how many of the grey-haired-heads in the audience were much interested in their Irish heritage when they were 20.

I would bet they were more interested in Elvis or Marlon Brando or Marilyn Monroe or Mickey Mantle than in the history of the Irish in the Civil War. In fact, given the proliferation in Irish Studies programs at American colleges I suspect that interest in 'our Irish heritage' has probably never been greater among the young.

What's important is that the stories of the old, the artifacts and details of history are not lost so that when today's young Irish Americans are older they can refer back and learn about the Irish experience in America. That's what makes organizations like the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany and similar bodies across the country important. They're preserving those stories and artifacts.

There is no need for pessimism. Interest in our Irish heritage is going to grow, not wane, thanks to the Irish Studies programs, but mostly thanks to all the new technology that makes preserving the stories, history and even the artifacts so much easier than it was in the past. The Irish experience at Antietam and millions of other stories will not be lost. They will all be on YouTube.

Professor Tom Kelly delivering a lecture on the Irish Brigade in the
American Civil War at the
Irish American Heritage Museum, Albany, NY

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The All Ireland Hurling Championship game finished in a tie and it was "the best result, really"

Galway's Joe Canning celebrating after his early goal in last
Sunday's All Ireland Hurling Final
Last Sunday Kilkenny and Galway played in the All Ireland Hurling Final and the game ended in a tie. A draw. A dead heat. No overtime or extra time or penalty shoot-out or anything. The final whistle sounded and the game ended with the teams even at 19 points. The result means the same two teams will meet again in a 'replay' on September 30 to decide the championship.

When I think about that it's incredible to me. A championship decider ending in a tie. Can you imagine the Super Bowl ending in a tie? No, of course not. Football fans wouldn't stand for it. The Super Bowl is the championship game and there must be a winner.

Of course, ties are almost non-existent in American sports now. When I was a kid baseball and basketball didn't allow for ties; games kept going until there was a winner. Football and hockey had ties, but gradually those too have been phased out. The legendary 10-10 tie between Notre Dame and Michigan State in 1966 could not happen today thanks to college football's (frankly strange) overtime system.

Europeans are more comfortable with ties. Anyone who regularly watches the English Premier League has seen plenty of games that ended with both teams even. However, even European soccer championship games are played to a conclusion these days with 'extra time' and, if necessary, the dreaded penalty shoot-out. I can't remember the last time an FA Cup Final finished in a tie and the two teams met again in a replay.

The Gaelic Athletic Association, which runs both hurling and Gaelic Football, hasn't allowed itself to be dragged along with the anti-tie philosophy sweeping other sports. Games regularly end in a tie, particularly Gaelic Football.

Ties in hurling are much rarer generally because there is more scoring. The last time the hurling final finished in a tie was 1959.

I have to admit that when I was a kid ties always felt unsatisfactory, a let down. Yet, somehow, Sunday's result didn't feel that way to me. Maybe it's a sign of age, but I was happy enough for the game to end with a tie. It's also possible that I just didn't want to see Galway fall one point short when they've waited so long for a title. They earned the tie with a last second point, which allowed them to live to fight another day.

I haven't heard much griping from fans about the final ending in a tie. Again, maybe it's just that I haven't spoken to teenage fans, but mostly I've heard "a draw was a fair result" or "It was the best result, really."

Seeing as the fans aren't complaining about the game ending in a tie there's no mystery as to why the GAA is happy enough to keep the replay system in place. The replay in three weeks means another 82,000 fan sell-out of Croke Park and a large television audience. An extra, unexpected, huge pay day for the GAA.

However, the pay day will not be as huge as it could have been. And this is another reason why the GAA engenders such devotion among Irish fans: the GAA has cut the ticket prices for the replay by 40%. Why? Because, according to GAA executive Feargal McGill, "We’ve had a tremendous year, with tremendous loyalty from all our supporters, across the country, and this was the chance, the gilded opportunity, to say thanks. The very scale of the reduction, we hope, shows people just how much we do genuinely appreciate their ongoing support, in ongoing difficult times."

Could you imagine any American sports organization doing the same? Certainly none of the professional franchises would forego 40% of the gate in order to say "thanks" to their fans. I can't even imagine the NCAA doing it. Same goes for any of the European professional soccer or rugby leagues. I don't know if the GAA is unique, but it has to be pretty close to it.

The GAA is an amateur organization, but it's more than that. The GAA is at the very heart of life in Irish cities, towns and villages. The people who play at the highest level live among the people who cheer them on Sunday.

There are no great distances between the star players and the volunteers who keep the local clubs going and go to stand along the sidelines to watch a small contest on a dark, damp February afternoon or who filled Croke Park to capacity on Sunday for the All Ireland Final. Same goes for the GAA executives. They understand what life is like for the average Irish sports fan these days because they are the average Irish sports fan. Hence the ticket price reduction.

So all the fans will be at Croke Park again on the 30th to enjoy another great day, hopefully see another great game and all at a reduced cost. Awesome. It's the best result, really.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

This weekend's Notre Dame game is all 'Official Ireland' wants from Irish-America

Notre Dame fans thronged Dublin over the weekend
Notre Dame fans thronged Dublin over the weekend .

What a fantastic weekend! Tens of thousands of Notre Dame and Navy fans taking advantage of all too rare great summer weather seeing the sights, 'having the craic' in Dublin and, of course, enjoying a football game. The general consensus is that they came, they saw and they were charmed.

Oh, and they spent too - an estimated $150m this weekend alone. Of course, they didn't just stay in Dublin a couple of days for the game. They saw the rest of the country too. More spending, more great days for Ireland's hotels, restaurants and pubs.

In addition to the sight-seeing and fun times there was some serious business discussion too. The movers and shakers among the traveling thousands were wooed by the government in the hopes that they would steer some investment in Ireland's direction.

It was a dream weekend for the Irish economy, one that bears witness to what's possible when Ireland reaches out to accept the two hands always on offer from Irish-America, without which this weekend would never have happened.
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However, that's as close as official Ireland wants Irish-America to get. Tourists spending a fortune? Hurrah! Wealthy, powerful Irish-Americans steering jobs and investment to Ireland? Hurrah! Any further, deeper involvement of Irish-America in Ireland? "Whoa! Hold on there. That might be an issue. Can't have that."

Best example of this is how Craig Barrett has been treated. Barrett was the head of Intel for many years, including when Intel made its initial massive investment in Ireland back in the late 1980s.

Back in June of this year Barrett added his name to the list of those Irish-Americans who are willing to sit on boards of state companies, offering their wisdom and experience to these companies, to Ireland, for free.

The response of official Ireland to his offer? Zzzzzzzzz. Barrett joined the Irish Technology Leadershp Group's (ITLG) Diaspora 2016 movement after it had already been received in silence by the government and slapped away by Maura Quinn, head of the Institute of Directors (Ireland).

Diaspora 2016's mission is to "make a list of at least 100 business leaders from across the globe who wish to contribute their experience and time to helping Ireland's economic recovery." As Barrett pointed out, for Ireland's economy to rebound and thrive Ireland "must integrate the best of Irish innovation from around the world."

Too true. There are Irish people, whether born here or of Irish descent, who want to see Ireland succeed. They're willing to help out, to contribute.

Spurning their expertise is foolishness in the extrem. As Tom McEnery, former Mayor of San Jose wrote in response to Quinn, "One would think that all is well in Ireland." Attitudes like Quinn's can only be explained as the response of those who are comfortable and fear 'outsiders' coming in and shaking things up.

I admire McEnery, Barrett and the others' persistence. They refuse to take 'No' for an answer.

There is so  much potential in this group, so much that these men and women have to offer. All that's required is that Ireland stop resisting.

I just don't see that happening, especially not after this past weekend.

This weekend was exactly what official Ireland wants from Irish-Americans. Let's entice them to come to Ireland in big numbers, hence next year's "Gathering." Let's get the very successful among them to come to Ireland, hand them a glass of Jameson and a piece of brown soda-bread, put on a display of Irish dancing, show them our tax breaks and convince them that they should locate their EU operations here. Ask them to bring their non-Irish friends next time.

That's the extent of it. That's what Irish-America is for, tourism and investment. I don't really have a problem with either of those, but how is that any different from the strategy in 1987? How does it differ from 1962?

Next year's Gathering is actually a good idea. I support it. But how often can we gather? How often can Notre Dame play in Dublin?

Networking is the future in a world where technology has made distance almost irrelevant. In Irish-America Ireland has a ready made network; all it has to do is accept it. It's time for official Ireland to reach out with two hands and fully embrace Irish-America.

{Photo from Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame}

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Other than David Feherty, CBS got the tone just right for Notre Dame vs Navy in Dublin

CBS golf analyst David Feherty, who was in Dublin to provide
humorous asides during the Notre Dame vs Navy game.
{Photo from Google images}
CBS provided the television coverage of yesterday's Notre Dame vs Navy game in Dublin and the Irish people and the Irish government should be happy with what CBS provided. Oddly, the only questionable comments were provided by Irish emigrant David Feherty.

Although I knew Feherty had made something of a name for himself on American TV as a golf analyst, I had never heard him before. I don't watch golf and didn't know what to expect from him.

From his first contribution I realized that Feherty's role was to provide some humorous asides about football, about which he admitted to knowing next-to-nothing, and Ireland, presumably from an authentic Irishman's perspective. Unfortunately, he frequently got the tone wrong and was more insulting than humorous.

I'm willing to give Feherty the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just trying too hard, but I thought a number of his remarks fell flat. His opening remark was on Gaelic Football and Hurling, which he described as a cross between Lacrosse and second degree manslaughter. That was fine, but later when he was asked to describe Hurling, rather than do that he claimed, wrongly, that Hurling wasn't played in the north of Ireland. He must have known that's untrue. His answer was silly and left the American audience none the wiser about the game after Verne Lundquist asked.*
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During his taped half-time piece Feherty quipped that "it took me 37 years to escape this place and I still get a wee bit nervous at customs and immigration every time I come back in case they make me stay." I know he thought he was being funny, but it just across as far too negative. So negative, in fact, that The Gathering, the government's 2013 tourism initiative and prime sponsor of the game, could probably complain to CBS that Feherty had attacked the product they're selling.

Also, I never before heard that famine immigrants sometimes lit fires on board ships that then caused the ships to sink. Maybe it happened - once or twice - but it made the "simple people," as Feherty called them, sound stupid.

That was just Feherty and I really think it was more a matter of him trying too hard to be funny at times. I guess he didn't do too badly most of the time, but I could have lived without him.

As for play-by-play man Lundquist and analyst Gary Danielson there can be no complaint. Both men were very generous in their comments about Ireland and the Irish. They got the tone right and Lundquist in particular was clearly charmed during his time in Ireland, at one point saying that although he's Scandinavian he'd like to come back for The Gathering.

As for the images, CBS spliced in beautiful photographs of Irish scenery: the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and numerous shots of Dublin. They made Ireland look great.

The one glaring omission from the broadcast was a blimp. I presume CBS's budget for the game didn't stretch to a blimp, but The Gathering should have worked something out with them. The weather yesterday was great and blimp shots of Dublin and beyond would have been fantastic. Instead of blimp shots CBS used pictures from a camera mounted on a building somewhere along the Liffey and, frankly, those pictures got more and more dull as the game went on. A missed opportunity there.

I have to admit I was somewhat surprised by the number of shots of fans drinking. I can't recall seeing so much of that during football or baseball games before. It seemed a like a bit of a stereotype, but of course most of the fans at the game were American, as were most of the drinkers. By the third quarter I was simply tired of it.

Possibly the biggest negative from The Gathering's perspective was the score. A closer game would have been better as it would have ensured a bigger audience for the second half, especially considering that much of America was only waking up when the third quarter was getting under way. There was nothing that could be done about that, however, other than for Navy to do a better job of holding onto the football.

As a total package, however, The Gathering has to be pleased. CBS delivered.

* Yes, I fully understand all the background on Feherty and Gaelic games in County Down where he is from.