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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


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.

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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.


Memories of a trip to Cuba

Standing in O’Reilly Street with a Mayo man, Declan Tarpey, who I met for the first time in Havana in 1999.

The recent death of Fidel Castro has sparked off an intense debate about his legacy in Cuba – was he a hero or a tyrant?

It’s amazing how polarised opinions have been.

In my personal blog this week, I recalled a trip to Cuba in 1999 in which the restrictions on personal freedom and lack of hope among ordinary people were profoundly depressing.

Fidel was no hero, not with the way in which his secret police harassed people for hanging out with foreigners or the way in which Communist Party members would spy on their neighbours.

I loved Cuba, but I was also deeply saddened by my three weeks on the island.

The truth was that Fidel was neither a complete tyrant nor the national hero many people on the left have made him out to be.

You can read my blog post here

Galway is buzzing!

It’s been a phenomenal few weeks in the City of the Tribes.

Visitor numbers seem to have increased significantly on last year and annual events such as the Galway Film Fleadh, Galway International Arts Festival, and the Galway Races have enjoyed bumper attendances.

To crown the celebratory atmosphere, the city was recently designated European Capital of Culture for 2020.

This accolade will ensure a packed programme of events four years from now and provide a lasting legacy to the city’s arts and culture sectors.

It’s the subject of my latest piece for the Irish-American website,, which was published today.

The successful bid resulted from a long campaign by a small group of local volunteers, whose “I back Galway” slogan really captured the hearts and minds of people across the city and county.

You can read more here:

19/07/2016 Big Top GIAF16 Photo: Andrew Downes, Xposure.
19/07/2016 Big Top GIAF16 Photo: Andrew Downes, Xposure.


Is Ireland a racist society?

My report on the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN), which appeared in this week. Some of the comments in reaction to the article were appalling, showing that Irish-Americans have not learned lessons from their own tough times forging new lives overseas.



It’s a subject most of us choose to ignore, something that makes us just a little bit uncomfortable in the context of how many people from our own island have chosen – or been forced to make – new lives in other parts of the world.

The island has changed beyond all recognition over the past 20 years and it was significant that there were no representatives of the mainstream media present when the Galway Anti-Racism Network was launched at a public meeting which attracted a capacity attendance this week.

The speeches went on for almost four hours, yet nobody complained. It was the first time in memory that such a diverse range of speakers shared a platform, to share their own experiences of racism in the City of the Tribes.

Under the title ‘All Tribes are Welcome’, it was amazing to see the positive reaction among the attendance at the launch at the Galway Rowing Club.

The capacity crowd at the Galway Rowing Club. Photo: Shane Broderick

These were people who rarely get a mention on the national airwaves, people who feel marginalised and that their voices are never heard.

The atmosphere was all the more electric because no event like this had ever taken place in the city before.

The organisers of the meeting have called for an overhaul of the Incitement to Hatred Act after being taken aback by the sheer number of people who attended and shared their stories. They are also hoping to liaise with Gardai and schools to bring the anti-racism message into the wider community.

Speakers included an African taxi-driver, members of Ireland’s Muslim community, a former asylum seeker, a Traveller woman, and a black-Irish woman. Each of them told the four hour meeting of their own experiences of racism in Ireland.

Taxi-driver Henry Williams spoke of the casual racism of late night revellers on the city’s taxi ranks who walk pass three or four black drivers before getting into a cab with a white Irish driver for their journey home.

Singer Sharon Murphy, star of BBC television series ‘The Voice’, told the meeting about the pain she experienced growing up as a black person in rural Co Galway and the fear she felt when she first visited Harlem in New York.

As more and more black people got onto the subway train, and more and more white people got off, she realised she had inherited a fear of people of her own skin colour during her childhood in Connemara.

“In Clifden, in Connemara, I learned to be afraid of people like myself,” she said. “I remember the terror I experienced when I first went to Harlem. I realised the negative messages I had been given about black people.”

Former asylum seeker Mosa Moshoeshoe spoke of the pain of trying to live on €19.10 per week under the Direct Provision system, when she was keen to work.

She said she was a poor role model for her children, but because she was a refugee awaiting asylum she did not have the option of getting a job in Galway. Even though she has since been granted permission to stay in Ireland, she has been unable to find a house to rent.

Mosa told the meeting about a friend in Co Wexford who was unable to rent out a house. She was turned down by a landlady when she phoned to see if a house was available. A day later, her Irish friend discovered that it was still available.

Her friend was pretty sure she had been turned down for the accommodation because of her African accent.

Bridget Kelly of the Galway Traveller Movement said her community faced daily discrimination in the areas of accommodation, health, employment, and education.

“Being refused access to hotels and pubs, being unable to get a house when people find out you are a Traveller, you feel ashamed of who you are,” she told the hushed attendance.

Imam Imbrahim Noonan spoke of the Islamophobia he has experienced from people who were later shocked to realise that he was Irish-born. He said that his children, whose mother is Pakistani, had experienced a different form of racism.

Speakers at the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network.

Imam Noonan, of the Galway Islamic Cultural Society, pointed out that Islamic terrorists were only a tiny minority among the global Muslim community. Yet some people in Ireland wanted to blame all Muslims for the actions of the tiny minority.

According to a spokesman, Joe Loughnane, the number of people who turned up for the first public meeting of the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) vastly exceeded the expectations of the organisers.

“People brought food and were keen to engage with each other,” he said. “We couldn’t believe it when the place started filling up 20 to 30 minutes before we even began. People were just so happy to share their stories.

“They had never been in a room that was so diverse and yet everybody seemed to be speaking from the same page. The message was very much one of solidarity and positivity. People seemed to recognise that this coming together was something that needed to happen.

“All of the speakers were thrilled by the reaction of the people in the room. They did not feel judged and they were so happy to share their stories. There was a real spirit of action, of getting things done, in the room.

“People were taken aback by how similar their experiences were. It was unprecedented to have a black taxi-driver, a Traveller woman, a black Irish woman, an asylum seeker, and Muslim representatives sharing the same platform in the West of Ireland.”

He said it was clear that racism was an issue in Ireland, but that a lot of it took place behind people’s backs.

Mr Loughnane spoke of his own experience growing up as a half-Irish, half-Pakistani man in Galway. He found that he experienced racism when he went into the city centre with one of his parents, but not with the other.

“There is this sense of people being taught to hate themselves or being ashamed of who they are,” he said afterwards. “Thankfully, we do not have an active far-right here in Ireland. But we want to challenge racist myths that are out there. We want to challenge racism wherever we see it.”

The meeting concluded when Ms Murphy led a spirited version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’.

* Thanks to Shane Broderick for the photos of the GARN launch. For further information about the GARN, who meet every Tuesday evening, check out their Facebook page at:



Controversy seems to have raged over the past two weeks over whether or not the 1916 rebel leaders were justified in staging the Easter Rising at the height of World War One.

Opinion makers on both sides of the Irish Sea have claimed there was no justification for the rebels’ decision to take over key locations in Dublin and other towns and cities.

I felt compelled to write a blog about the controversy after being sickened by two articles in the Daily Telegraph which compared the Irish rebel leaders of a century ago to the ISIS terrorists today.

Some Irish commentators have argued that the Rising was not justified, that Home Rule was eventually on its way for the Irish after years of colonisation by the British Empire.

People seem to be sick of having to apologise for the actions of the “terrorists” who took on the might of the British Empire, as though their uprising occurred in a vacuum.

The men and women of 1916 knew that the Irish had been denied Home Rule and equal rights for decades, they hadn’t forgotten about the Great Famine, the British landlord class, or how hard people had to struggle for Catholic Emancipation.

They really believed independence was impossible without bloodshed and it’s too easy to judge them by today’s standards.

They were also acutely aware of the bitter experiences of previous Irish nationalists such as Daniel O’Connell, who tried to use peaceful means to achieve Irish freedom.

The blog is entitled ‘Dear Daily Telegraph’ and it was reproduced today as an opinion piece by Irish-American website

There is a link to the article here:

Dear Daily Telegraph …

Dear Daily Telegraph,

I wish to apologise. Over the past few days, I’ve been guilty of some sinful thoughts. I have actually taken some pride in honouring the people who lost their lives in the fight for my country’s freedom.

I know, I know … I should be ashamed of myself. They were “terrorists”, the equivalent of Islamic State today if I was to believe what I read in your newspaper.

Those cowardly men and women stabbed the British Empire in the back at the height of the Great War, they were traitors one and all at a time when Irish people should have known that their real “enemies” were over in Germany, Austria, and Turkey.

Dublin, of course, was a “British” city, part of the greatest empire in the history of the world. It was an empire which civilised the “savages” from Egypt to India, Kenya to Pakistan, for so many years.

It was all the rebels’ fault. England was eventually going to treat Irish people with a modicum of respect. It was just a matter of time before you’d begin to treat us as equals and grant us our independence.

I know, I know. The 1916 leaders’ parents and grandparents had seen thousands of their countrymen and women perish in the Great Famine just 70 years before, but it wasn’t Britain’s fault. There was no famine. Food was still being shipped to Britain as the Irish lay dying on the roadsides.

We have a homelessness crisis today, so we haven’t done a great job at ruling ourselves, although there was a bit more of a homelessness crisis in the 1840s, when starving people still had to pay rent to absentee landlords in Britain.

But let’s not talk about that, or the cartoons in British magazines at the time which depicted the starving Irish peasants as a sub-human species.

You didn’t give Catholics a vote for many years, hell you didn’t even allow them to own any land. But, of course, it was just a matter of time . . .

The “terrorists” in the GPO were murderers and you did wonders for the law and order problem by bringing in the Black ‘n’ Tans in response to their terrible uprising. Do English people even know the atrocities that raggle-taggle band of brothers carried out across my land?

I guess the Black ‘n’ Tans don’t feature too prominently on your schools’ curriculum these days. Might make for uncomfortable reading.

By executing the 1916 leaders, the British Empire was only sending out a message. It was wrong, so wrong, to take over the centre of Dublin when Britain was at war and Home Rule was on the way. Eventually. Maybe not for ten years or 20 years or 50 years, but it was on the way. Eventually.

Ireland was part of a parliamentary democracy and we all know that the MPs who sat in Westminster had the best interests of the Irish at heart.

Your columnists believe that the 1916 rebels were their era’s equivalent of Islamic State, and who am I to disagree?

Can’t imagine why my grandfather despised the British Empire after armed soldiers shot up his house in rural East Galway. You can still see the bullet holes today.

Can’t imagine why his neighbour hated anything to do with Britain, after being hunted down for five years while he managed to survive “on the run” in haysheds across the West of Ireland.

Can’t imagine why the people of Ardrahan were anti-British after the Black ‘n’ Tans shot an unarmed woman dead at the door of her house as she held a baby in her arms.

The executed 1916 rebels, by legendary Irish artst Jim Fitzpatrick

Can’t imagine why the starving Irish who took the ‘Coffin Ships’ to America – and were damn lucky to survive the voyage – might have decided to send funds back to support the “rebels”.

It has taken Ireland a hundred years to come to its senses, you claim, notwithstanding the fact that millions of people of Irish descent are scattered throughout North America because of racist British policies towards my people in the 19th century.

You condemn “our” terrorists for the “collateral damage” caused by the rebels in 1916, yet I never see you question how many innocent lives were lost when Tony Blair decided to join George W. Bush in his ill-fated Afghan and Iraqi wars as recently as a decade ago.

It’s still ok, it seems, for the former empire’s forces to bomb innocent civilians thousands of miles from home in the 21st century, but not for Irish rebels to take over Irish cities and towns in order to proclaim a republic, where men, women, and children might have equal rights.

When your country kept playing the Irish along, promising but never delivering home rule, you played into the hands of the “terrorists”. Irish people instinctively knew they would never achieve freedom without spilling blood.

When your empire’s forces executed the 1916 leaders, you lost all moral authority over the Irish. People would not have voted Sinn Fein ‘en masse’ in the following General Election if they did not have genuine grievances over the way the country had been governed by colonisers for centuries.

It’s no fun being treated as a second class citizen in your own land – ask the people of Palestine, another country you meddled with for so long. They are still feeling the pain caused by British meddling in other people’s affairs to this day.

When you continued to rule part of the island of Ireland, you played into the terrorists’ hands again in 1972, when your wonderful forces shot 14 innocent people in Derry on Bloody Sunday.

They were guilty, too. Guilty of demanding equal rights in a sectarian state, in a city where a single Protestant had a better chance of getting a Council house than a large Catholic family.

You could not have come up with a better recruitment policy for the IRA than slaughtering innocent people on that horrible January day on the Bogside. In one afternoon, you managed to turn a whole generation of young men in a run-down part of the city into “terrorists”. Well done.

So spare us your observations about what a backward, priest-ridden society Ireland became after the Empire left these 26 counties.

But, in case you haven’t noticed, we have moved on. Irish people voted overwhelmingly for peace in 1998 and nobody wants to steamroll a million Unionists into a United Ireland. Not against their will, anyways.

We have a President we can be proud of, rather than a “Royal” family – what a quaint and simply absurd concept in the year 2016.

We have an army we can be proud of, who represented us on peace-keeping missions all over the world, from the Congo to the Lebanon.

We have music, games, and a culture we can be proud of, instead of going cap in hand to our bigger neighbours who treated us with disdain – and even racism – for so long.

We still have our ancient language, despite your best efforts to kill it off and to ridicule the peasants who spoke it for centuries.

We didn’t like being subservient to a Government which discriminated against us and we get on much better with the British now, don’t you think, that you treat us as equals.

So, instead of focusing on the shortcomings of our revolutionary “heroes” on this side of the Irish Sea, maybe it’s time to take an uncomfortable look at your own nation’s legacy down through the centuries all across the globe.

Your Empire didn’t “civilise” the Irish, or the Indians, or the Egyptians, or Palestinians, or Malaysians . . . you raped their countries’ resources for as much as you could get and it wasn’t the natives’ fault that you left chaos in your wake, when your beloved Empire began to crumble.

But I guess you don’t teach the lessons of your own troubled history to your children. It might be just a tad too painful to examine how much pain you yourselves have caused for so many years.


* Thanks to legendary Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick for the superb illustration of the 1916 leaders

Loathing the fear on the campaign trail


My latest blog post looks at the issue of pro-Government spin in elements of the mainstream media.

It seemed clear in recent weeks that there was a a clear pro-Government bias in parts of the national media, along with scare-mongering against left wing parties such as Sinn Fein and AAA-PBP:

“Has there ever been a General Election campaign in Ireland before in which the role of some elements of the mainstream media seemed so clear? Not to report the truth, or to compare policies, but to cheer on the establishment parties and spread an irrational fear of change.

For months now, we’ve been told that this election is giving us a choice between “stability” (voting for the parties who either bankrupt the country or imposed austerity on thousands of us) and “chaos” (God forbid if those upstarts from Sinn Fein or the small left wing parties came within a million miles of power).

Sometimes the mask slips, and you wonder whether Irish democracy is any better than the kind of electioneering you would find in modern day Russia or even North Korea.

Malcolm X had a jaundiced view back in the 1960s

Such as when the nation’s biggest selling newspaper gives over its main story to attacking Sinn Fein policies for three days in a row. That’s not balanced election coverage, that’s naked propaganda … ”


You can view my latest blog here

My dream for 2016 – a life without fear

For many people, 2015 was a difficult year, characterisied by fear.

In places like Paris, Tunisia, and the Sinai, terrorism impacted on ordinary people and increased people’s fear of travel – at a time when we should be breaking down barriers.

In my own case, a seven month health scare (picking up the MRSA ‘superbug’ in my local hospital) followed my voluntary redundancy and restricted my plans.

While having my wound dressed every day, I managed to complete a 12-week digital marketing course.

And later in the year I completed the TEFL course at the Galway Language Centre.

But fear dominated too much of 2015 for me.

So my latest blog is about fear and how it would be great to tackle it in 2016.

Link to my latest blog

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