Over the past few years I have met some amazing people, survivors who have shown how the human spirit can triumph despite so many obstacles placed in their way.
Some of them were locked up in Magdalene Laundries.
Others were locked up in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, had to survive on very little food, and were told they were “bastards” when they went to school.
It’s hard to get a good shot at life if you were branded as “illegitimate” and treated as a second class citizen from the moment you were born.
Others I have met have family members among the 796 “Tuam Babies”.
They are being stonewalled in their search for the truth and denied compensation for the horrific pain and abuse they suffered earlier in life.
These people, and many other Irish people, have been treated appallingly by the Roman Catholic Church.
When Pope Francis visits Ireland, he does so as the head of an international organisation which facilitated the abuse of Irish children and blocked the Irish authorities from finding out the truth afterwards.
Does he owe us an apology?
Not to mention a huge amount of compensation for the survivors?
My latest blog post was used as an opinion piece for Irish Central at the weekend:
They don’t face the taunts, the sideward glances, or comments that they should go back to their own countries from strangers in public places.
They don’t stand out, like immigrants from some of the poorest countries on earth, because of the language they speak or the colour of their skin.
But that doesn’t mean that their lives are not characterised by fear, worries, or regrets that they cannot go home to visit elderly parents without turning their lives upside-down.
It is estimated that there are up to 50,000 of them, the ‘undocumented’ Irish who mostly moved to the United States in the 1980s or 1990s in order to escape a recession and lack of opportunities back home.
Many of the undocumented now have American children, but they would face three- or even ten-year bans now if they left the United States (even on a holiday) and then tried to return.
They try to stay under the radar, avoiding risks such as getting pulled by the police on the roads at night or attracting attention by reporting break-ins at their homes.
This week, for the Irish Central website, I spoke to a leading campaigner for immigration reform who told me about the fear which swept through Irish communities in places like New York, Boston, and Chicago following the election of President Donald J. Trump in November 2016.
As Trump marks the end of his first year in office, it’s impossible for these “illegals” or “undocumented” Irish to avoid the anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping across the US.
Now, more than ever, they see a need to keep their heads down and they are no longer campaigning vocally for a change to their status.
Senator Billy Lawless, the Galway native who represents the Diaspora in the Irish Seanad, fully admitted that the undocumented Irish were in a predicament of their own making.
During the decade after the Great Hunger, almost two million Irish people emigrated to the United States.
One suspects that, if Donald Trump was in power at the time, many of the impoverished Irish immigrants would have been turned away at the ports after their long voyages across the Atlantic.
It is amazing how little the Irish border featured in the Brexit referendum debate in the United Kingdom last year, even though the result of the vote will have a huge impact on so many lives.
Relationships between our two governments have been tense over the past couple of weeks and yet a British TV presenter felt a need to describe the entire affair as a “kerfuffle”.
Are the Irish an over-sensitive lot? And, in the United Kingdom, are we generally just an afterthought or an irrevelance?
The recent row over the implications Brexit will have on the Irish border has opened up old wounds.
It has also underlined just how little the Irish border communities featured in the debate before the vote across the UK last year.
I have heard people in Britain marvel over the fact that we share a common language, with no understanding that there was a deliberate campaign by our British ‘masters’ to wipe out the Irish language over two centuries.
I have heard people urge Ireland to leave the European Union and rejoin the UK, with no knowledge of the long history of oppression and colonisation by the British Empire in Ireland.
Last week’s online debate following unfortunate remarks by a Sky News TV presenter prompted me to write an opinion piece for Irish Central, which was published this morning.
The border was not something the Irish people wanted. It led to a bloody civil war, partition, and discrimination against the Catholic minority in the six counties for well over four decades.
Respect works both ways. One land cannot seem to forget its past, and the other sometimes shows that it knows nothing about it.
It is actually shocking that British people think the Irish should have no opinion on the implications the Brexit vote will have on the border and, indeed, all of our lives.
You can read my Irish Central article in full here:
Few Galway people will ever forget the terrible news on that day in October 2007.
The body of an innocent, fun-loving Swiss student, who had left home just days earlier to study English, was found by the city’s railway line. She had been raped and murdered.
The entire city was numb.
Like so many students before and since then, Manuela Riedo came to Galway because it was such a safe city.
For her parents, Arlette and Hans Peter, there seemed little to worry about when their daughter left home on her own for the first time to attend a language school in the West of Ireland.
Their grief must have been unimaginable when word filtered back about the fate of their only child.
Few could have predicted at the time that out of such desolation such strong friendships could emerge.
But, thanks to the dedication and hard work of people such as Shane Lennon and Eoin Durkin, the Riedos now have life-long friends in the City of the Tribes.
They have returned to Galway 16 times since a concert was held in their daughter’s memory in 2009.
Now, thanks to the hard work of the Manuela Riedo Foundation, a new educational programme is being rolled out at schools across Ireland.
Manuela’s memory is being immortalised to thanks to the core group of people who have done so much to heal terrible wounds.
I interviewed Eoin and Shane last weekend. You can read my piece about the Manuela Riedo Foundation here: https://www.irishcentral.com/news/community/galway-remembers-young-student-who-was-raped-and-murdered-on-first-trip-away-from-home
This week I was commissioned by a US website, Irish Central, to talk to both sides of Ireland’s bitterly divisive abortion debate.
With the country set to go to the polls in a referendum next May or June, campaigning has already begun.
It was a difficult piece to write, as I did not want my own personal views to interfere with the interviews I carried out with activists on both the pro-choice and anti-abortion sides.
The issue is particularly poignant in my native Galway, where the death of Savita Halappanvar five years ago sent shock waves across the globe.
Savita was denied a termination which could have saved her life and who can forget the image of a medic at University Hospital Galway telling her that “Ireland is a Catholic country”?
A veteran pro-choice activist pointed out to me that Ireland was now a completely different country compared to when the current legislation was enacted in the early 1980s.
She said that homosexuality and gay marriage had been legalised, Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes had closed, and divorce had also been introduced since then.
“This is something that belongs in a by-gone era,” she said. “Women used to come up to us and cry at our street stall in Galway city centre. Things have changed, but people might still be unwilling to wear ‘Repeal the Eighth’ jumpers in more conservative small towns or villages.”
It is also striking to note the differing demographics at the huge ‘Repeal the Eighth’ and ‘Pro-Life’ marches which took place in recent months in Dublin.
Members of the younger generation seem to be far more in favour of changing the current legislation if one is to judge by the turn-out at the marches.
Yet I was also struck by sincerely views are held by those I spoke to on the anti-abortion side.
Tommy Roddy, who campaigned for Marriage Equality, shows that it’s too easy to stereotype people who campaign to keep the eighth amendment.
“I have even had arguments with friends of mine over this issue,” he said.
“There seems to be this assumption that if you were in favour of gay marriage, for example, that you must be pro-choice. I was criticised for my pro-life views in the General Election, but my view is that there is a pro-life culture here in Ireland.”
Thanks to all four for speaking to me honestly about their convictions.
Given how sensitive this issue is, I really hope there is a clean campaign free of personalised abuse over the next eight months or so.
When I took voluntary redundancy from a regional newspaper three years ago, I decided to set up a personal blog.
I had no idea what was coming next in my life, but I knew that I loved to write and I saw a regular or occasional blog as a great way of communicating my thoughts and feelings through this crazy journey called life.
Given my own personal demons at that time – sudden unemployment, illness, uncertainty about the future, fear – seemed so universal in an extremely unequal Ireland, it just kind of morphed into a political blog.
Many people feel that the gross inequalities currently on show in Irish life are not always adequately reflected in our mainstream media. Which is why bloggers can play an important role!
I had already written a travel blog – called Ciaran’s Gap Year – during a wonderful career break from the Connacht Tribune and I loved the experience of being able to chronicle my travels through Thailand, Nicaragua, and Spain in 2010.
Little did I think in 2014, when I began scribbling on a reasonably regular basis, that my blog would make such an impact that I’d find myself alone but very happy among strangers at a glittering awards ceremony in Dublin on Thursday night.
Over the three years since, I have touched on issues such as homelessness, Irish neutrality, mental health, Palestinian and Syria human rights, post-conflict Northern Ireland, and our appalling treatment of asylum-seekers, enjoying the sheer freedom which comes with writing a weekly or occasional personal blog.
Through the blog, I have met wonderful people such as Catherine Corless, who broke the ‘Tuam Babies’ scandal; African taxi-drivers, who have been subjected to appalling racism; and survivors of institutional abuse.
The blog has clearly struck a chord at times, sometimes reaching up to 30,000 ‘hits’ thanks to social media shares by people such as Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan MEP, Belenus (of Call for a Revolution in Ireland), and the team behind Broadsheet.ie.
One blog post about 1916 even earned me a regular gig as a paid contributor to Irish Central, the biggest news site for the Irish community in North America.
It was written in anger, after two columnists at the Daily Telegraph dared to compare the 1916 rebel leaders to ISIS.
A night for celebration
So last Thursday was a night for celebration. I had reached the final of the V by Very Irish Blog of the Year awards and it was delightful to receive such recognition from my peers.
It was only when I got to The Academy that I realised the scale of the achievement. Although hardly anyone in the Dublin blogging community knows me, I was one of 5,000 initial entries who were whittled down to just a few dozen finalists.
I was thrilled to come second in the Current Affairs category, and I was also blown away by the quality and broad range of blogs and bloggers who made it to the final.
So congratulations to An Sionnach Fionn, who beat me to first prize in the Current Affairs (Personal Blog) category. And to the team behind Slugger O’Toole, winners of the corporate prize.
Congrats also to The Gastro Gays, who won the Blog of the Year award.
I survived three rounds of judging to make it to the final and the prize has given me a huge boost as I continue to adjust to life as a former newspaper journalist.
Thanks so much to everyone who has supported both me and my blog during a period of transition and even crisis in my industry.
And, remember, if you do want to hire a blogger – I have written about a huge variety of subjects over the past 25 years – there’s one available right here out in the wild west, on the Wild Atlantic Way.
I also hope to continue ranting about injustice in Irish society. Now, more than ever, Ireland needs writers with integrity. On Thursday night, I was delighted to see that there are quite a few of us about!
To hire a ghost blogger for your business website, please call Ciaran Tierney at (087) 7996290
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.
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:
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.
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.