Buzzing Belfast learns to leave its troubles behind

A mural in West Belfast, August 2017. Photo; Ciaran Tierney Digital Storyteller

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to spend three wonderful days in Belfast. It was my first visit to the city in 21 years.

When I was last there, civil servants from the Republic were seen as “legitimate targets” by loyalists as they worked on the peace process which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Nobody in the city ventured out late at night and the centre used to become deserted after about 7pm.

The visible scars have been removed and I found a city, with so much to offer, which has been radically transformed for the better.

It may still take some time for the less visible scars to heal.

The watchtowers, lookout posts, and British Army bases have been removed but, sadly, people in the nationalist and loyalist communities seldom cross the divide.

They may not mix as much as they could, at work, school, play, or in the sports they follow, but everyone seems pretty united in terms of how much better life is today than it was during The Troubles.

One of the people I interviewed, Una Murphy, recalled an occasion back in the 1990s when her mother was shocked to see two tourists outside City Hall.

“The phone rang and my mother was in awe, she said she had just seen two Japanese people with cameras outside City Hall,” recalls Una, with a smile. “In those days, tourists never came to Belfast.

“I came back to Belfast around the year 2000. It has taken a few years, but you can really notice the difference now. It’s normal to see so many tourists walking around the city center and we have had more cruise ships than ever in the harbor this year. During The Troubles, nobody really wanted to come here.”

Nowadays, the red open-top busses are full of tourists, the Titanic Quarter is pulsating with energy, and former paramilitarys bring the curious on walking tours of the “hot spots” on the Shankill and the Falls Road.

Read my latest travel feature for Irish Central here:

Poignant ‘Rocky … ‘ examines our concept of home


Previewing Rocky Ros Muc recently on Galway Bay FM

The winner of the Best Irish Documentary feature award at the Galway Film Fleadh last weekend was a poignant film about a Connemara-born boxer who once fought for a world title.

But it’s about so much more than boxing.

Sean Mannion left Ros Muc, in the Gaeltacht, for a new life in Boston which has seen him spend most of the past 40 years a long way from home.

In chronicling Sean’s career, and how unbelievably hard he has been on himself, the film is a tale of the Irish experience of exile and how so much of our identity is tied up in the towns and villages which spawned us.

In many ways, Sean is the complete opposite of current media hype specialist Conor McGregor. He never talked himself up, he hever denigrated his opponents, and he was far too hard on himself for losing a gruelling world title fight to Mike McCallum in 1984.

Here’s a piece I wrote for Irish Central about this excellent film, published yesterday:


Daring to discuss Donald Trump!

Few politicians have divided opinions as much as President Donald J. Trump

It’s not often through the course of a career in journalism dating back over 25 years that I’ve been accused of “fake news”. But if you dare to write about President Donald J. Trump for an American website you can expect division, disharmony, and wild accusations.

Like most journalists, the thing I pride my work most on is engaging with people and reporting on their stories as honestly as I can.

This week, New York-based website Irish Central asked me to measure the kind of reactions to President Donald Trump which US tourists and expats are encountering in Ireland this summer.

I had no idea what kind of reaction I would get when I began asking questions, but all of the respondents found that there is an extraordinarily high degree of interest in Trump among ordinary Irish people.

I spoke to an academic and a teacher who have been living here for years, a Bostonian author on a book tour, a former NYC resident who runs walking tours of Galway, and a few tourists on the streets.

It’s only a small straw poll of what’s happening in Ireland this summer.

But the common thread seems to be that Irish people are baffled by Trump’s victory last November, and they also can’t get over how often Americans feel a need to apologise on behalf of the 45th President of the USA.

I only interviewed seven or eight people for the article, so I never claimed it’s a definitive article about attitudes to Trump all across Ireland. How could it be?

But it’s amazing to see the reaction on social media sites.

Trump supporters in the US are quick to claim the article is “fake news”, as though I never took the time to go out and speak to US expats and visitors alike about their experiences in Ireland.

As Kellyanne Conway says, I must have found “alternative facts”.

No American president ever seems to have divided people to the same extent as Donald J. Trump and when three separate interviewees described him as a “buffoon” I really didn’t have to put words in their mouths!

But, hell, what do I know? According to some commentators on social media, I’m a “libtard” based in New York … and not an actual real-life Irish journalist who took some time to talk to people living in or visiting Galway to ascertain their views.

Of course, the results of my research would have been much different had I sought out and spoken to Trump supporters visiting Galway.

But every person I spoke to from the US, or with US connections, in Galway this Summer seems to be alarmed that this man is currently President of the USA.

Funny how, these days, though, if you don’t like something you just label it as “fake news”. I can’t imagine what it is like to work for CNN or The Washington Post, until I look at the comments on the social media sites of US news outlets.

As one of the Rubberbandits claimed last year, the comments section of some news websites could be better described as “sewers” these days!

Distrust in the media is at an all-time high. What I find amazing, though, is that it’s now so normal to denigrate journalists or accuse them of making things up … simply because you don’t like what they have to say.

Find me on Facebook:

Shining a light on the ‘Tuam Babies’

Survivors and young families joined together to honour the “Tuam Babies” and all those who passed away too soon

A deeply moving vigil to remember and honour the “Tuam Babies” took place in Galway on Sunday evening.

The Honouring the Babies event was organised by First Light, a charity which provides specialised bereavement counselling to families who lose babies and young children.

It was all the more poignant because it was attended by a number of survivors from Mother and Baby Homes across the West of Ireland who had been impacted by the findings of the Commission of Inquiry last month.

First Light representative in Galway Emer Hennelly says the idea behind the event at the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill was to honour all of those children who lost their lives in institutions across Ireland.

She said young families who avail of the specialised counselling provided by First Light had been deeply moved by the “Tuam Babies” revelations in recent weeks.

The charity, which used to be known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association (ISIDA), also attracted a record attendance to its Mile in Memory walk in Salthill earlier the same day.

Parents, siblings, friends, and neighbours of children who passed away too soon walked a mile from the Galway Bay Hotel before returning to the Circle of Life Garden to release balloons in memory of their loved-ones.

“Not only did we want to let off the balloons to remember the little ones who left us too soon, we wanted to use the occasion to honour and remember the 796 Tuam Babies and all of those children who died or grew up in Irish Mother and Baby Homes,” said Emer.

The sudden loss of a child is the most unimaginable pain a family can suffer and Emer said it was important to remember all children who died too young, as well as supporting today’s parents in their darkest hour.

First Light have supported families in their darkest hour for 35 years and Emer says that many of today’s parents were deeply moved by the recent confirmation that hundreds of babies may have been buried at unmarked graves in Tuam.

“For 35 years, we have been helping families finding help and support following the sudden or unexpected death of a child. We felt it was important to honour all babies who passed away in Irish institutions,” says Emer.

Ms Hennelly said the First Light organisers were thrilled that historian Catherine Corless, who spoke at the event, and survivors from the Tuam home attended Sunday’s event.

Journalist Ciaran Tierney, who was MC for the 45 minute ceremony, said Ms Corless was a modern Irish hero.

“Only for her painstaking research, the world would never have heard about the ‘Tuam Babies’,” he said. “Catherine was determined to find out the truth about what happened at the Tuam home and, in doing so, she has given a voice to the voiceless.

“Some of the survivors have said they were unable to talk about their experiences in the home until Catherine’s research was made public. They said she has given them the courage to speak out for the first time.”

Poignant poetry and song

Two Galway-based singers, Sinead Nic Gabhann and Ruth Dillon, sang deeply poignant songs at the gathering and Caroline Quigley, author and healer, read a poem she wrote especially for the event.

Ronan Scully read a poem in memory of a friend’s child, who died tragically just days prior to Sunday’s moving ceremony.

“By receiving help in dealing with bereavement from appropriately trained professionals, parents and families can learn to live with their grief and begin rebuilding their lives,” said Ms Hennelly.

The survivors from the Tuam home were invited to the front of the stage where they joined Ruth Dillon for a moving rendition of ‘We Are The World’ at the end of the ceremony.

A blog post about Catherine Corless, a modern Irish hero:


The beautiful Circle of Life garden in Salthill, where the event took place on Sunday evening.

Honouring the ‘Tuam babies’ in Galway

The beautiful Circle of Life Garden in Galway

A charity which provides help and support to families following the sudden or unexpected death of a child has organised a vigil to honour the “Tuam Babies” in Galway on Sunday (7pm).

First Light representative in Galway Emer Hennelly says the idea behind the event at the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill is to honour those children who lost their lives in institutions across Ireland.

The charity, which used to be known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association (ISIDA), is holding a Mile in Memory walk in Salthill earlier the same day (12 noon).

The sudden loss of a child is the most unimaginable pain a family can suffer and Emer says it’s important to remember all children who died too young, as well as supporting today’s parents in their darkest hour.

Sunday’s event takes place in a beautiful garden, located near the seafront promenade, which was opened by Denis and Martina Goggin as a tribute to their late son, Eamonn.

The Goggins took a huge interest in organ donation after Eamonn died tragically in a road traffic accident.

It is located between the Salthill Hotel and the Galway Bay Hotel.

First Light have supported families in their darkest hour for 35 years and Emer says that many of today’s parents were deeply moved by the recent confirmation that hundreds of babies may have been buried at unmarked graves in Tuam.

“For 35 years, we have been helping families finding help and support following the sudden or unexpected death of a child. We felt it was important to honour all babies who passed away in Irish institutions,” says Emer.

Service users will take part in the Mile in Memory Walk along the Salthill Promenade earlier on Sunday, at 12 noon. Registration takes place just before the walk at the Galway Bay Hotel.

Emer says that First Light exists to help parents following the tragic or unexpected death of a baby or child.

“By receiving help in dealing with bereavement from appropriately trained professionals, parents and families can learn to live with their grief and begin rebuilding their lives,” she says.

Survivors of Irish institutions, including the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, are especially welcome at Sunday’s event which is expected to last less than an hour.

Two wonderful Galway-based singers, Sinead Nic Gabhann and Ruth Dillon, will sing at the gathering and Caroline Quigley, author and healer, will read a poem she wrote especially for the event.

Find the event on Facebook, and spread the word!

Contact Emer at (086) 3642886 for further information about First Light or about the ‘Honouring the Babies’ event on Sunday.

Hire a content writer!

The modern Irish hero who uncovered the ‘Tuam babies’ scandal

Historian Catherine Corless with her scale model of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home

The dogged determination of a quiet-spoken local historian to discover the truth about what happened to the Irish children now known as the “Tuam babies” has made headlines all across the world.

Catherine Corless never sought the limelight, but she did want justice for the mothers who were imprisoned in the Tuam home and the children who never had a chance in life.

She has shone a light on our darkness thanks to her tireless research to find out the fate of the 796 “Tuam babies”.

And she has given a voice to survivors of institutional homes who felt they were never worthy of a voice, or an apology for being labelled as “illegitiamate” or “bastards” by an uncaring Irish society.

Many of the survivors have contacted the North Galway historian in order to talk about their experiences as “home babies” in such institutions for the first time in their adult lives.

“I didn’t go looking for survivors. They looked for me. They rang me and called to the house. They just kept coming. We’d sit down and discuss over cups of tea what I could do for them. They have begun to speak out and to find their true voice, which is fantastic,” she told Irish Central this week.

Thanks to Catherine, some of the survivors are now campaigning to find out what happened to their siblings – presumed dead, but with no proper burial ground to show where they are buried.

There are fears now that birth and death records may have been faked so that Irish children could have been adopted by Americans.

Before adoption legislation was introduced in 1952, many Americans sought Irish children for adoption.

Indeed, if it is found that some American children were given false Irish birth certificates after being adopted, it could yet prove to be as big a scandal as that of the “Tuam babies”.

I spoke to Catherine in her North Galway home for a couple of hours this week.

The result was a two part series for this weekend.

Here are the two articles I wrote, based on my lengthy interview with Catherine.

Part One: How she did it …

Part Two: Tuam babies may have been adopted in large numbers to US

In my opinion, following her tireless work and the obstacles placed in her way, Catherine should be first in line for a ‘People of the Year’ award.

Remembering the Magadalene Laundry women in Galway

Remembering the Magdalenes

A poignant ceremony at Bohermore Cemetery in Galway

Who were the Magdalenes?

They were imprisoned until the 1980s, with the full collusion of the Irish State and even their own families.

They spent years, sometimes their entire adult lives, working in laundries which were run by religious nuns.

Sometimes, not always, they were “guilty” of the crime of having a child outside marriage.

Their children were taken from them and sometimes shipped off to the United States for adoption.

It’s one of the most shameful aspects of modern Irish history.

They called them Magdalene Laundries.

On Sunday, I attended a gorgeous, poignant, moving ceremony to remember these women.

At the graveside, a wonderful man called Peter Mulryan spoke about his search for his missing sister and his childhood in the Tuam Mother and Babies Home.

“If you starve an animal or dog, what we do they look? That’s the way we looked,” he said on Irish television this week.

Just one year ago, he was contacted by historian Catherine Corless.

He now believes his younger sister is among the 796 little angles buried in a septic tank in Tuam.

Nobody has told him what happened to her.

He deserves an answer.

I wrote about the moving ceremony for Irish Central, based in New York. You can read the article here


Banned in the land that made us refugees …



Ireland is facilitating the US travel ban on all Syrian refugees. Empathy with the children of Aleppo is in short supply.

“Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies

  • ‘Thousands Are Sailing’, The Pogues

Between 1847 and 1850, a hundred ‘coffin’ ships sailed out from Galway Bay. The people who made it onto those ships were desperately impoverished and full of fear, and yet they saw themselves as hugely fortunate compared to those who were forced to stay behind.

They were the equivalent of today’s Syrian or Iraqi refugees. Their land had been stolen, the crops had failed, and they dreamed of new lives far removed from the conflict and turmoil which raged across their homeland.

Many were less fortunate, such as little Celia Griffin, aged six, from Connemara. Celia never had a chance in life and was found lying on the side of a road, just one of hundreds of thousands to die of starvation.

The ships were destined for the ‘New World’.

Poor country people from villages and townlands across the West of Ireland, many of whom could barely muster a word of English between them, sailed across the western ocean in search of a chance in life which had been denied them under the British Empire.

I think about those people most weeks when I bring foreign English students on a walking tour of Galway. I think of how forgotten they were for decades in Galway City, their point of embarkation.

It was only when a returned emigrant, the late Mark Kennedy, kicked up a fuss that the city and region honoured them with a wonderful Famine Memorial Park which opened eight years ago.

For many, the collective memories are still too painful … of poverty, of families torn apart, of the pain of long-term emigration. Most of those who made it to the other side – many died during the lengthy crossing – never got the opportunity to go home and visit their loved-ones again.

The Irish fugitives were near the bottom of the barrel in 19th century America. As they flocked into the Bronx, Hell’s Kitchen, or South Boston, it would have been unthinkable to imagine how their lives would have turned out if they had been denied entry at the US border.

Had the US president taken a hardline on emigration, had there been 19th century equivalents of Donald Trump and his “extreme vetting”, then countless Irish would have been turned back as soon as they reached the east coast of America.

They wouldn’t have had enough food to survive the return journey and, if they did, the numbers who died in the Great Famine would have been vastly higher.

Given our terrible history, it was shocking to wake up this weekend to discover that “extreme vetting” – bordering on fascism – has now been introduced just an hour’s drive south of where those coffin ships departed from Galway Bay.

Last October marked the 15th anniversary of Shannon Airport’s complicity in the US ‘war on terror’

At the stroke of a president’s pen, Muslims from seven countries have been banned from entering the US.

Persecuted in their own country and no longer welcome at the end of an arduous journey, Syrians refugees in 2017 have quite a lot in common with the Irish who escaped from the discrimination and hardship imposed by the British Empire.

The Irish died in their thousands on coffin ships in the 1840s and now Syrians are dying on makeshift boats as they make their way across the Mediterranean.

Back then, the Irish were seen as a threat, deeply unpopular, rebellious spirits, who could not be trusted on the streets of New York or Boston.

Today, Muslims are the new “enemies”, even though, strangely enough, Saudi Arabia (who provided the vast majority of the 9/11 bombers) is not on Trump’s list of seven banned countries.

Amazing, too, how Yemen is on the list, considering it has been bombed to bits by US “ally” Saudi Arabia over the past two years. Yemen is on the verge of famine, but any Yemeni who turns up at a US border will be deported and sent back home.

The targeting of an entire race, nation, or religion has brought up understandable comparisons with 1930s Germany.

Back then, good people were afraid to speak out while their Jewish neighbours were being forced to wear yellow stars to make them more identifiable in a growing climate of hatred and intolerance.

Given our own troubled history, it’s incredible to think that racial profiling is now taking place on Irish soil.

The US ‘pre-clearance’ at Shannon was supposed to make travelling easier when it was introduced in 2009, but now it could lead to people being discriminated against for no other reason than their country of birth.

It is unthinkable to imagine the kind of hostility a Yemeni or Syrian would have to deal with if he or she was to try to board a flight to the US at Shannon.

Imagine, the land where hundreds of thousands of people were made refugees is now about to let a powerful nation, motivated by xenophobia and fear, discriminate against refugees on Irish soil.

Of course, Irish people have already been turning a blind eye to what’s being going on at Shannon Airport for the past 15 years.

Last July, for example, 85 civilians – among them almost a dozen children – lost their lives in a bombing in a small Syrian village.

Combatants had targeted a village in Northern Syria which had been held by Islamic State (IS) or Daesh fighters.

The combatants or “terrorists” who carried out this attack on Tokhar stop almost daily in Shannon to refuel their aircraft.

The terrorists were US soldiers. But there was no minute’s silence, no protest, and the bombing did not even merit a mention on BBC or RTE news.

People in Ireland or the UK only found out about it thanks to RT, the Russian channel, and Britain’s Channel 4.

How can we care about the loss of innocent lives when we are not even told about them by many segments of our media?

Most of us just shrug when we hear that over 2.5 million US soldiers have landed in ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001.

We didn’t protest when US soldiers who pass through Shannon murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

We didn’t protest when planes carrying munitions, helicopters, and even deadly chemical weapons to aid the Israeli occupation of Palestine passed through Shannon.

We didn’t protest when prisoners were renditioned through Shannon on their way to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

Mind you, we can’t be sure about that one … because not one person in authority in Ireland has ever searched a US military plane during 15 years of Shannon’s use as a military base.

But surely, finally, it’s time to protest now. Is it acceptable that people in uniforms standing in Co Clare can now prevent people from getting onto a ‘plane on the basis of their nationality alone?

The Americans have made a mockery of international law by effectively turning a civilian airport into a military base. Now they want to discriminate against refugees before they even leave Ireland.

In light of our own terrible history, can Irish people really stand idly by when we hear that racial profiling has become a fact of life just an hour south of where the ‘coffin’ ships once set sail from Galway Bay?

  • Shannonwatch, who have monitored the US military use of ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport for the past 15 years, have organised a protest at the airport this coming Thursday (6pm)

Find me on Facebook:

Protesting against US President Donald Trump in Galway last weekend.

Scanning the social media ‘sewer’

The social media reaction to the Women’s March in Galway was venomous

A former newspaper colleague recently confided in me that she never reads any of the comments under her articles whenever they appear on-line in national publications.

Even though she has written brilliantly about her own personal struggle with depression, attracting the admiration of thousands of readers, she has found some of the comments just too hurtful, too ignorant to ever pay attention to them.

By her reckoning, it’s better to ignore all comments than to trawl through them in search of genuinely engaging responses or feedback from readers who have enjoyed – or want to criticise – her work.

One of the Rubberbandits, the satirical comedy duo from Limerick, recently described the comments section of a major Irish news website as a “sewer”.

I got a taste of how the Rubberbandits and my former colleague felt at the weekend when I was commissioned by Irish Central, the US-based website, to cover a Women’s March in Galway on Saturday afternoon.

It was one of almost 700 events taking place across the globe on the same day in solidarity with a march in Washington DC, in which women across America were expressing concern at the Inauguration of the new President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

This was a man who had boasted about groping women “by the pussy”, who had mocked a disabled reporter, and seemed to have racist and Islamaphobic views about Mexicans and Muslims.

I went to the Galway march as a reporter, with the intention of talking to people – mostly women – about their motives for taking part.

My own views on Donald Trump didn’t count, although I admit I was shocked by Trump’s election victory in the wake of so many divisive comments during the election campaign. Not that I was a fan of Hillary’s . . .

I was hugely impressed by the turn-out at the march. There were hundreds there on a cold but beautiful January afternoon in Galway and it was remarkable to see so many young women at the march – these were not the kind of people who would normally attend a ‘loony lefty’ demonstration in my small city.

The speeches were defiant and there was a real sense of solidarity among the hundreds who turned up.

I quite enjoyed my couple of hours in Eyre Square, talking to peace activists, Irish-Americans, and anti-racist groups who were all horrified or frightened by Trump’s election.

And then I went home to file my piece for Irish Central, which was published online the following day.

You can read the piece here:

The piece was shared on Facebook 200 times and attracted hundreds of comments.

A day or two later, out of morbid curiosity, I flicked through them and I was shocked by the tone.

Some commentators claimed that the entire piece was “fake news”, that the march never took place at all.

As if a journalist could make the entire thing up after going along to a demonstration, taking photos, and interviewing a dozen participants in the march.

But, no, I was wrong. It was all anti-Trump lies. The march had never taken place, I read, according to commentators who attracted dozens of ‘likes’.

Others attacked the Irish ‘liberals’ for their cheek in complaining about the new President of America, as though politics in the US had no impact on our lives.

That’s news to the thousands of Irish families who have family members in the US, the thousands who rely on US multi-nationals in Ireland for jobs, and those of us who see US troops fly through our local airport every day to bomb children in places like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

But, no, I was wrong. I had joined the ranks of these “fake news” proponents so hated by Donald Trump during his divisive election campaign.

For a few moments, I tried to reason with some of them, to point out that I could not possibly have just invented a march which was attended by hundreds of people.

But I was told to “get off my high horse” by those who were clearly enraged that Irish “liberals” would dare to criticise their new leader.

For a few brief moments, I got a taste of this “post-truth” world which seems to have torn the US apart when it comes to social media.

Normally, people only read what they want to read. They spend their social media lives in echo chambers in which everyone agrees with them.

And when someone comes along and threatens their grasp of reality, they are ridiculed, libelled, and attacked. Because anything is better than reading an opposing point of view these days.

Social media allows us to make instant contact with people all over the world, which can be fantastic. Sadly, it also allows people to fabricate and distort the truth, to such an extent than a Facebook user in Virginia or Texas can convince people that a march in Galway never took place.

Before, instead of fact checking, they just move on to the next story. Full of bitterness and hatred towards those who have an opposing point of view.

Because that’s just the nature of the social media sewer when it comes to political discourse in 2017.

If you don’t like someone’s message, just keep repeating the mantra that it’s “fake news”.

Social media commentators in the US were not happy after hundreds attended a Women’s March in Galway.

Find me on Facebook:

Loneliness and loathing at Christmas

ALONE Ireland provide fantastic support for elderly people living alone throughout the year.

This week I was commissioned by Irish Central to write an article about the loneliness and mental health problems faced by parents whose adult children have emigrated from Ireland.

You can read the article here.

A 2014 report found that women, in particular, experienced loneliness and depression after their children moved overseas.

The loneliness was compounded when the adult children put down new roots and grandchildren did not come ‘home’ to Ireland at this emotional time of year.

Skype calls and Facebook messages don’t make up for not being able to spend time in each other’s company.

I spoke to one of the co-authors of the report, Alan Barrett, who said that emigration no longer seemed to be a big issue now that the Irish economy seems to be in recovery.

I also spoke to three elderly people who have children overseas and came to hugely admire the work of ALONE Ireland, who send out teams of enthusiastic volunteers to visit elderly people in their own homes.

ALONE Ireland recently produced a fantastic video to celebrate the tireless work of their small army of volunteers. They brought an entire cinema to tears when it was screened in a Dublin cinema.

The article was published online yesterday.

What surprised me most following the publication was the sheer vitriol it attracted from readers of Irish Central after the troubles of ‘illegal’ Irish immigrants in the United States were referenced at the start of the article.

Instead of reading about the loneliness of three elderly Irish people – none of whose children are ‘illegals’ – and the care ALONE provides, about 90% of social media comments called on the illegals to be sent home.

To judge by the comments, some Irish Americans seem to know little or nothing of their own troubled history and how their ancestors came to live in America.

There was no compassion, no tolerance, no empathy for the elderly Irish people who never get to see their American grandchildren at Christmas.

Here in Ireland, we have had stories in the media about Irish people in the US who can never return home for family funerals or weddings, because of their ‘illegal’ status.

The irony of course is that all these white English speakers who proclaim their loathing of Irish immigrants are the descendants of immigrants themselves, living on stolen land.

They have a festival called ‘Thanksgiving’ which celebrates the theft of a nation and the slaughter of indigenous tribes.

The ‘illegals’ constituted just a small part of the article, but attracted virtually all of the – 90% negative – commentary on Irish Central.

There was no sense of empathy with the elderly Irish people who might not even have wanted their children to move, illegally, to the US.

Of course, we should not judge an entire nation by a few dozen social media comments, especially a nation as big and diverse as the United States.

But the comments gave me an insight into the kind of mentality which allowed a racist, sexist, Islamophobe to be elected President of the United States.

Fear and loathing of those who are different seems to have replaced the positivity and optimism we used to associate with the ‘American Dream’.

If people have so much hatred and intolerance in their hearts at this time of year, what hope is there for multiculturalism in Trump’s America?

If Irish-Americans have no affinity with the new Irish, how would they have felt if Americans had treated their ancestors in the same way when they arrived on the ‘coffin’ ships from Ireland?

2016 has been a troubling year.

At least in Ireland we still have a sense of community, of caring for the underdog or those who flee poverty and persecution.

Those values seem to be evaporating in the US if one is to judge by the reaction to my article this week.