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  • NY to get Irish Arts Center with €2.3 million grant

    Monday, December 7th, 2009

    New York will get a major new Irish landmark, with the announcement today that Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has granted€2.3 million for the construction of an Irish Arts Centre in Manhattan.

    The press release from the Department of Foreign Affairs said:

    The Minister said one of the main themes to emerge from the attendees at the Global Irish Economic Forum was the importance of Irish Culture to the image of this country abroad and in particular in the USA. He noted that this was also an important conclusion of the Strategic Review of Ireland US Relations, published by the Taoiseach last March. Minister Martin said he was extremely impressed by the arguments made at Farmleigh by members of the business and cultural sectors alike.

    Announcing the grant from the Emigrant Support Programme managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Minister said:

    “The allocation of such significant funding is a clear demonstration of the Government’s strong commitment to the building of the new Irish Arts Centre in New York. This funding is a response to the extraordinary gesture of the City of New York in making a site, valued at $12 million available for the project, along with a further $8 million in capital funding.

    The construction of the New York Irish Arts Centre is identified as a priority in the revised Programme for Government and I would like to pay tribute to Minister Martin Cullen for his longstanding support and commitment to the project.

    The new Centre will project a dynamic image of Ireland and Irish America across the US; it will facilitate extensive Irish-related cultural, business and community programmes; will showcase quality contemporary Irish theatre and art; and will also provide an invaluable resource for the Irish emigrant community in the US?.

    The Minister paid warm tribute to New York City Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn for their exceptional support for the initiative. He also thanked Gabriel Byrne for his support for the Arts Centre and for his longstanding work in promoting Irish culture throughout the US.

    Minister Martin said that this major initiative demonstrates how seriously the Government views the outcome of the Farmleigh Forum:

    “Everybody at Farmleigh said that the success of the Conference could only be judged by the quality of the follow up. Today I have begun to demonstrate that despite the difficult budgetary situation, we are determined to continue investing in our unique resource- the Irish Diaspora and its cultural heritage.

    This is just the beginning and I will be making further announcements in the New Year.

    Other ideas which are being actively progressed include: a new Global Irish Network; the establishment of an Irish innovation centre in Silicon Valley; the Gateway Ireland portal, which would serve as a key online focus for promoting Ireland abroad and engaging with our global community; expanded educational exchange and scholarship programmes to increase engagement with younger generations; and a new Farmleigh Overseas Graduate Programme. I am aware that a number of other Departments are also taking forward initiatives suggested at Farmleigh. I am similarly encouraged by the fact that significant work has already been undertaken by participants themselves on a number of projects that are more suitably advanced by the private sector. These will have the support of the Government.?

    He pointed out that at its meeting on 13 October, the Government considered a comprehensive report prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Irish Management Institute. The full report contains a detailed list of the main themes and specific proposals to emerge and is available on ( and

    The Government has also established a new inter-Departmental Committee, chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Taoiseach, to consider the proposals and monitor progress across Departments. The Committee has already begun its work and will report to Government in the New Year.

    The Minister emphasised that the Government is absolutely committed to engagement with the Irish Diaspora across all regions and all sectors:

    “Through the Emigrant Support Programme, we will continue to offer support to all sections of our Diaspora. In addition to the increased economic element to our work arising from the recent Forum, I am determined to ensure that we continue to attach a high priority to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable members of the Irish abroad.?

    Irish gems of early cinema showcased in Boston

    Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

    The Boston Irish Film Festival looks like it’s up to great stuff these days. The website is out of action at the festival rebrands, but this month moviegoers are being treated to a look back at the earliest days of Irish cinematic history.

    “Blazing the Trail: The Story of the Kalem Film Company in Ireland” is being billed as

    a unique multimedia event that takes you back to the early 1910s when pioneering screenwriter/actress Gene Gauntier and director Sidney Olcott of the Kalem Film Company blazed a trail from New York to Killarney-and into history!

    Affectionately known as the “O’Kalems,” Gauntier, Olcott, and their crew became the first American filmmakers to shoot overseas and the first to produce films that reflected the realities of the Irish experience. A sentimental mix of rebel dramas, folk romances, and tales of exile and emigration, their films proved tremendously popular with the Irish in America and helped ease the pangs of being so far from home.

    I love the idea that these films were made in part to assuage the pangs of homesickness in an immigrant audience. How thrilling – and heartbreaking – it must have been to be able to see Ireland on screen in the earliest days of cinema, thinking that the black-and-white images might be the  closest thing to home you might ever see again.

    The programme will consist of a number of these short films, all digitally restored. The original films – some of which haven’t been screened in a century – will be accompanied by a pianist and two vocalists; there will also be a series of recently produced short films recounting the adventures of the Kalem film-makers.

    Watch this quirky little preview:

    The Boston Film Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary a year ago. Organisations like this (and the New York-based Irish-American Writers and Artists, for example) are a great reminder of the appetite for intelligent contributions on Irish-American heritage, and how much vitality there is on the Irish-American cultural scene; this  vitality is far too  often underestimated here in Ireland, where many people cling to inaccurate and outdated stereotypes of our diaspora.

    The event is sponsored by Reel Ireland, the Arts Council, and Culture Ireland. In recent years, there has been an increase in funding available from Ireland for Irish cultural events taking place outside of Ireland – this will surely have a great impact in strengthening the relationship between arts communities abroad and in Ireland, and also with deepening the understanding between Ireland and its diaspora communities.

    The programme will be screened on Monday, November 23 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Harvard Street in Brookline; tickets cost $9.75.

    If you’re not near Boston, you can watch (most of) “The Lad from Old Ireland” on YouTube (I think it’s from a German print, so it’s complete with a little bit of German text). Directed by Sydney Olcott and released in 1910, it’s the first American film shot on location outside the US. Eleven highly entertaining minutes of melodrama!  Part 1 and Part 2.

    Related web pages:


    Monday, July 27th, 2009

    A number of monuments to emigration exist in Ireland; one or two of these are well-known, while many of the rest of them have more of a local appeal.

    Let me know if you know of any others to add to this list, either in Ireland or around the world.

    Larne, Co. Antrim – “Emigrants to America?

    This memorial depicts a family emigrating in 1717, and their appearance is in marked contrast to the more common depictions of famine-era emigrants. They are well-dressed and relatively prosperous-looking; the woman is carrying a Bible and the boy is carrying his shoes. Their positioning, in which they look forward into the distance, suggests a sense of possibility and even pride.  The figures appear to be a literate, reasonably well-off family looking forward to the future.

    The inscription on the monument reads:

    This memorial, unveiled on 16th May 1992 by Professor Bobby Moss PhD of South Carolina, is dedicated to the memory of those first Ulster emigrants who sailed from Larne in May 1717 upon the “Friends Goodwill” bound for Boston. They were to be the first of many.”

    “There is no other race in the United States that can produce a roll of honour so long and so shining with distinction. And who shall deny our claim to have done more, much more than any others to make the United States”.

    Two related monuments:

    These are closely linked memorials that tell different stories.

    • “Coffin Ship” places the emphasis on death and suffering tied in with the departure -skeletons form the structure of the ship, and the figures are lying down. It is significant that this monument is in Ireland, where the Famine’s toll of suffering and death was acute.
    • “Arrival” emphasises the successful completion of the journey- the figures are upright, and some of them are leaving the boat. Additionally, these are fully-fleshed out buildings and the figures on the boat have individual features. The sculpture’s location in New York and its more positive tone reflects the fact that for those who made the journey, there was the possibility of a new life. It also reflects the different meaning of the famine for the two countries: While for Ireland, the Famine was synonymous with despair, emigration and death; in the New World, however, discourse about Famine emigration, while acknowledging many of its tragic aspects, also reflects the fact that the large-scale migration was a starting point for much of Irish-American history.

    Famine Monuments, Ireland and Canada – Rowan Gillespie

    Famine Monument, Dublin

    Ireland Park, Toronto

    The Toronto memorial is unusual in that it focuses on the mindset of the immediate arrivals.

    Falcarragh, Co. Donegal – The Bridge of Tears and monument stone

    The translation of text on the stone: “Friends and relations of the person who was emigrating would come this far. Here they separated. This is the Bridge of Tears.?

    Derry –”The Emigrants” Eamon O’Doherty’s sculpture at Waterloo Place

    This monument depicts a couple departing with their children and two grandparents saying farewell. Two of the figures in the departing family look backward at the grandparents, while two look forward, toward the port.

    The sculptor is showing the relationship between the emigrants’ past and future and the people left behind. The depiction of two figures looking back and two looking forward highlights both the pain of departure and the possibilities inherent in migration.  The boy has a musical instrument, and the young girl is carrying a book;  both of these signify the culture they will bring with them to their new land.

    The clothing and the figures are highly stylised, so it seems  that the sculptor is trying to represent the idea of emigration itself rather than commemorate a particular set of emigrants.

    Sligo Famine Memorial

    See it on Flickr.

    This sculpture shows the vulnerability of the Famine emigrants – yet the figures are also demonstrating tenderness and concern for each other. In contrast to the family at Larne, they are focused inward – emigration is not for them a matter of looking forward to a bright future.  The young girl is pointing out toward the harbour, and ultimately to her future in America.

    Annie Moore

    Annie Moore with her brothers, Cobh – Images on Flickr

    Annie Moore at Ellis Island, New York  – Images on Flickr

    Annie Moore was the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island in New York, which was opened on January 1, 1892. She and her brothers were joining her parents, who had emigrated in 1888.

    Kiltimagh – “I’ll send you the fare” – Sally McKenna, 2006

    The plaque on the ground reads,

    “This sculpture is dedicated by Bill Durkan to the memory of the young men and women who emigrated from Kiltimagh, Bohola and the surrounding areas during the 1950s.”

    Many young men and women emigrated alone in the 1950s. This is an extremely poignant depiction of emigration: the figure is almost ghost-like in its positioning on the footpath of a town street, as he trudges along, accompanied by no one. The small suitcase seems to highlight his vulnerability, heightening the notion that he may be ill-prepared for such a life-changing journey.  The lack of pedestal gives  a greater sense of immediacy or intimacy to the figure.

    This is a monument to the ordinary, unheralded emigrant, yet it is also very specific in its reference to a particular place and time. It is unusual in memorialising such a recent migration; many of those it is meant to memorialise are still alive.

    Cork Listening Posts

    Cork City Council

    The Listening Posts are an innovative use of oral history. The repeating voices of the posts are like ghostly presences inhabiting the quays.

    This monument is different from the others in its visual minimalism, as it would be impossible to tell from the appearance of the sculpture what it is meant to memorialise.

    Other monuments and memorials:

    • Irish Memorial, Philadelphia – Flickr
    • Famine monument, Cambridge, Massachusetts – Flickr
    • New Basin Canal Irish Memorial, New Orleans, Louisiana – Flickr
    • Famine memorial – Sydney, Australia – Flickr
    • New Basin Canal Irish Memorial – Flickr
    • Irish Veteran Memorial Project – website
    • Shot at Dawn Memorial – Flickr

    International – monuments crated by other nations to commemorate various migrations

    • Emigration Stone – Cromarty, Scotland – Flickr
    • Emigration monument, Hanko, Finland – Flickr
    • Monleone, Cicagna, Italy – Flickr
    • Emigrant’s Monument, Feltre – Flickr
    • Garden of Exile – Berlin Flickr, web, Flickr, Youtube
    • Monument of mass emigration, The Three Changjiang River Gorges, China – Flickr
    • Chinese coolie, Singapore – Flickr
    • Lampedusa, Italy – monument to migrants who died at sea trying to reach Europe – web article, Flickr
    • Migrant children, Fremantle, Australia – Flickr, more Flickr

    UNESCO – Migration and World Heritage Sites

    Emigration-related heritage centers

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    There are several heritage centres around Ireland with an emigration-related theme. Here are a few:

    Jeannie Johnston

    On-board museum highlighting the ship’s 16 voyages to America, in which the ship never lost any of its 2,500 passengers. Purchased as a cargo ship in 1848 by a Tralee merchant, it was used to transport emigrants over the next seven years.

    Cobh Heritage Centre, Cork

    Museum tells the story of the port of Cobh, the single most important point of embarkation and the 2.5 million people who departed there between 1848 and 1950.

    Ulster-American Folk Park, Tyrone

    Open-air, living-history museum telling the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Dunbrody Emigrant Ship, Wexford:

    Replica of three-masted barque built in Quebec that carried emigrants to New World from 1845 to 1870.

    For more information on emigration-related cultural institutions around the world, see UNESCO’s Migration Institution’s website.