In the News: Roots of Unionist Political Parties in Northern Ireland

Since last week’s election, the Democratic Unionist Party has received more attention outside of Northern Ireland than it has in years, now holding the balance of power in the UK Parliament.  While the DUP was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, the separation of political parties in Northern Ireland from the main United Kingdom parties has roots in the late nineteenth century before and during the Home Rule era.

2017 Election

2017 General Election Results – BBC News

In the 1870s, sectarian strife in the north of Ireland was at a low ebb as both Catholics and Protestants united through Liberal Party politics.  Continue reading


On the 75th Anniversary of US Troops’ Arrival in Belfast


Northern Ireland. People watching members of the first contingent of the New American Expeditionary Forces as they march to their trains after disembarking from transports – photo credit: Library of Congress

After the United States entered World War II following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the first American troops were deployed to assist in the defense of the United Kingdom.  US troops debarked in Belfast on January 26, 1942, a contingent of 4,058 led by Major General Russell P. Hartle. Private First Class Milburn H. Henke was the first to descend the gangplank onto Northern Irish soil. By May of that year, about 32,000 troops and 2 divisions were in Northern Ireland.

US troop presence had an impact throughout Northern Ireland. For example, the 34th Infantry Division was headquartered in Omagh, County Tyrone, while the 1st Armored Division was based at Castlewellan, County Down.  The V Corps was headquartered in Lurgan, County Antrim, and American soldiers and sailors participated in training throughout the country.

Each American soldier and sailor received A Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland to get them “acquainted with the Irish, their country, and their ways.”

“You will start out with good prospects,” the guide enthused.  “The Irish like Americans.  Virtually every Irishman has friends or relatives in the United States; he is predisposed in your favor and anxious to hear what you have to say.  This, however, puts you under a definite obligation: you will be expected to live up to the Irishman’s high opinion of Americans.  That’s a real responsibility.”

Over the course of the war, 300,000 American servicemen were stationed in Northern Ireland.  American troops in the United Kingdom worked with British forces to fight for control of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, to launch operations for invasions of North Africa, the air war in Europe, and D-Day.


British Sergeant instructs U.S. gunners. A British Sergeant taking some of the U.S. troops in Northern Ireland through a course of light A.A. gun drill – photo credit: Library of Congress

See also:

The American Battle Monuments Commission’s interactive resources on Americans in Great Britain, 1942-1945

Francis M. Carroll, “United States Armed Forces in Northern Ireland During World War II,” New Hibernia Review 12, no. 2 (Summer 2008)

Images of the American troops from the Belfast Telegraph

US Presidents and Ireland, Part III

A few weeks ago I looked at the tours of Ireland by Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon.  You can find that post here.

Now let’s take a look at the visits from American presidents since the 1980s.



Ronald and Nancy Reagan in Ballyporeen – photo credit:

Earlier this year, RTE’s History Show did a podcast on Reagan’s visit to Ireland, which you can find here.  It highlights the mixed reception he was subjected to throughout his visit, given American policies in Central and South America at the time.

Reagan arrived at Shannon for a four-day visit on 1 June 1984.  He received an honorary degree, which caused quite a bit of controversy, at NUI Galway

On 3 June, Reagan visited his great-grandfather’s hometown of Ballyporeen in Tipperary.  Before his visit, he had little knowledge of his family roots because his father had been orphaned at a young age, so there was not much of a sense of connection to the family’s past.

It’s difficult to express my appreciation to all of you.  I feel like I’m about to drown everyone in a bath of nostalgia.

-Ronald Reagan at Ballyporeen

He stopped in at Ballyporeen’s Ronald Reagan Lounge, the facade and fittings of which were later moved to the Reagan Presidential Library in California.

From there, Reagan went to Dublin, where he stayed at the US Embassy in Phoenix Park and addressed a joint session of the Irish National Parliament, highlighted by his celebration of the connection between the US and Ireland, as well as addressing IRA attacks in Northern Ireland and London.

Reagan’s remarks at Ballyporeen

Address before a Joint Session of the Irish National Parliament


Bill Clinton arrived in Northern Ireland at a key moment in 1995.  His decision to previous year to grant a visa to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams had garnered both praise and high levels of criticism.  He became the first sitting US President to visit Northern Ireland, arriving in Belfast on 30 November.  He was self-consciously leading the US to intervene in British-Northern Ireland relations, calling for reconciliation to end the Troubles.

Over the last 3 years since I have had the privilege to be the President of the United States I have had occasion to meet with Nationalists and to meet with Unionists and to listen to their sides of the story. I have come to the conclusion that here, as in so many other places in the world, from the Middle East to Bosnia, the divisions that are most important here are not the divisions between opposing views or opposing interests. Those divisions can be reconciled. The deep divisions, the most important ones, are those between the peacemakers and the enemies of peace: those who, deep, deep down inside, want peace more than anything and those who, deep down inside, can’t bring themselves to reach out for peace; those who are in the ship of peace and those who would sink it; those who bravely meet on the bridge of reconciliation and those who would blow it up.

-Bill Clinton in Derry

Clinton’s visit was considered extremely successful, leading the United States to play an undeniably key role in the peace process.  With George Mitchell as lead negotiator, the Good Friday agreement was agreed in 1998.

Clinton made two further presidential trips to Ireland. In September 1998 his trip included a visit to Omagh, shortly after the bombing there.  And he returned in December 2000, including a visit to Dublin and Drumconda.


George W. Bush’s visit to Ireland was marked by controversy before it started.  He conducted an exclusive RTE interview (seen above) with Carole Coleman from the White House the day before his visit, causing tensions with tough questions on the Iraq War, conduct of American soldiers, terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction.  RTE had planned another interview with Laura Bush, but this was cancelled.

Bush arrived at Shannon on 25 June 2004, staying at Dromoland Castle in County Clare and attending a two-day European Union-US summit.  He also met with Bernie Ahern and Mary McAleese.

His visit was marked by the need for high levels of security, and protests against the Iraq War and American military actions.


The most recent Presidential trip to Ireland was that of Barack Obama in 2011.  He arrived in Dublin with the First Lady on the morning of 23 May, meeting with Mary McAleese and Enda Kenny.

Next, he traveled to his ancestral hometown of Moneygall, County Offaly, shaking hands with as many as possible who came out to greet him in the rain.


The Obamas in Moneygall – photo credit: New York Times

After enjoying a pint of Guinness, the Obamas headed back to Dublin.  President Obama gave a speech in College Green before departing for London amidst the Iceland volcanic ash cloud.

Now, of course, an American doesn’t really require Irish blood to understand that ours is a proud, enduring, centuries-old relationship; that we are bound by history and friendship and shared values.  And that’s why I’ve come here today, as an American President, to reaffirm those bonds of affection.

-Barack Obama in Dublin

White House image gallery of President Obama’s visit

College Green Speech

New York Times coverage of the trip

RTE Coverage

Is féidir linn


Visiting the Ulster American Folk Park

107 Folk Park edit

It was pretty amazing to find out that a major part of my personal area of study was the subject of its own museum, the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh in Northern Ireland.  The folk park is a primarily open-air museum, with buildings, streets, and countryside representing the “old world” and “new world” for Ulster emigrants.  Visitors enter in the “old world,” with its thatched roof cottages and village streets with original buildings, historic school house, and the homestead of the Mellon family.  They make their way to the dockside and cross the Atlantic on board a “ship,” and arrive in the “new world,” with historic log cabins and houses that have been brought over from America and reconstructed on site.

119 Mellon house

Mellon House – photo credit: L. Flewelling

The Ulster American Folk Park was built around the site of the Mellon House, which remains in its original location, and historic buildings from Ulster and America have been moved and reconstructed on site to best portray life on both sides of the Atlantic, centuries of migration, and enduring connections between Ulster and America.  Truly an impressive undertaking to create a site with historic and representative buildings, demonstrations, and even animals and crops to portray their region and time period.

171 Western PA Log House

Western Pennsylvania Log House – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Postcard from Belfast City Hall, built in 1906

Belfast City Hall - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Belfast City Hall – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Belfast City Hall was planned in response to Queen Victoria’s grant of city status to Belfast in 1888.  Architect Sir  Alfred Brumwell Thomas designed the building in the Baroque Revival style, with the exterior constructed out of Portland stone.  The building took eight years to complete.

Belfast City Hall from Donegall Place - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Belfast City Hall from Donegall Place – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Belfast City Hall was the site of the signing of the Ulster Covenant in opposition to Home Rule on Ulster Day, September 28, 1912.  Ulster Unionist leader Edward Carson led a military procession to the hall, where he was the first person to sign the covenant pledging to use “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland.”

Belfast City Hall - photo credit: L. Flewelling

Belfast City Hall – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Belfast City Council: Belfast City Hall site

The World As Gaeilge

I’ve just been at the wedding of a good friend and in her honor as an American speaker of Irish, I thought I’d take a look at the Irish language worldwide.  This ended up being an enormous subject, so I’ll just give a snapshot of what came up while researching.

125 years ago, in 1891, only about 14% of the population of Ireland spoke Irish.  The Gaelic Revival in the late nineteenth century, led by Douglas Hyde, Eoin MacNeill, and others, steered the resurgent interest in the Irish language and connected the language to the strong nationalist politics of the era.  When the Irish state was founded in 1922, the Irish language became compulsory at schools.  Today, Irish is the first official language of Ireland and an official language of the European Union.  The language throughout Ireland has been granted substantial investment by the state including Gaeltacht areas specifically designated by the government as primarily Irish-speaking regions.

Despite high levels of investment by the Irish government and interest in the language by people in Ireland (not necessarily translating to actually speaking the language), use of Irish in the home has declined substantially.  This is the case even in the strongest Gaeltacht areas in Co. Donegal, Co. Galway, and Co. Kerry.  Irish is endangered as a community and family language, even as numbers of people who have Irish as a second language stay steady or expand in other regions.

Out of a population of about 4.6m, about 77,000 people speak Irish on a daily basis outside of the education system (as of 2011).  Does Irish constitute a living language?  Can and should it compete with English in Irish-speaking areas?  How should the Irish government approach the language?  How closely tied are the Irish language and the state of the economy?  The language faces many questions moving forward, especially as it is listed as “definitely endangered” by UNESCO.

In Northern Ireland, Irish is considered extinct as a first language, although as many as 10% speak Irish as a second language.  It is listed under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages for Northern Ireland.

The Irish government and other organizations (such as the Fulbright Commission, Ireland Canada University Foundation, Glór na nGael, and Daltaí na Gaeilge) have substantially invested in Irish language use worldwide.  The government grants funds to university programs supporting Irish language learning mainly in Europe and North America.  In 2015-2016, Ireland is supporting programs in Britain, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden, France, the United States, and Canada.  The grants are not restricted to places where there are significant numbers of Irish-born people.  The Irish language also has a presence in Australia, where it is taught at the University of Sydney, in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Russia, and China.

While there are fewer than 1,000 native Irish speakers in Canada, a vibrant community of Irish language learners has led to the purchase of land in Ontario in the Tamworth/Erinsville area to create a Permanent North American Gaeltacht.  This was established in 2007, and is the only officially sanctioned Gaeltacht outside of Ireland.  The area is set aside for events and gatherings in which Irish is spoken as a community language and the living culture and traditions of the language are celebrated.  No one lives there permanently.

In the United States, one of the oldest Irish language programs is at Catholic University in Washington, DC.  The program was funded in 1896 with a gift of $50,000 by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  Irish is most vibrant in the New York City metro area, as exemplified by this fun character study of an Irish-speaking garbage truck driver.  And there are several universities and community colleges in the New York/New Jersey region with Irish language programs.  According to the MLA, about 350 people currently study Irish at the university level in the United States (as of 2013), with the number limited due to programs lasting a maximum of 4 semesters.  There are more people (like my friend) who study Irish in less formal settings, not for university credit, in cities like New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago.  In 2011, there were at least 87 academic and non-academic institutions teaching Irish in the United States.  Even more difficult to track, other Irish learners get a taste of the language through online study.  As of 2009, about 24,000 speakers of Irish lived in the United States, although this was self-reported and does not indicate level of fluency.

UNESCO estimates that about half of the world’s 6,000 languages spoken today will disappear by the end of the 21st century if nothing is done to preserve them.  Will most languages really be extinct within the next hundred years?  We will have to see how people’s interests, parents’ dedication to passing the language on to their children, and government policies make a difference for the path of the Irish language.  After all, its status now is much different than a century ago.

Additional Sources:

Daniel de Vise, “A modest revival for the Irish language,” Washington Post 5 Mar 2012.

Susan Krashinsky, “A tongue-twisting labour of love in Canada’s Gaelic-speaking community,” The Globe and Mail 2 Sep 2011.

Kari Lydersen, “Preserving languages is about more than words,” Washington Post 16 Mar 2009.

David McKittrick, “Bualadh bos… Gaeltacht goes global,” Independent 18 Apr 2007.

Helen Ó Murchú, More Facts about Irish (2008/2014).

RTE Radio 1 Documentary: “More Irish Than the Irish Themselves” 12 Mar 2011.