Thursday, April 29, 2010

Community Centers Versus Bombings in Northern Ireland Today

I haven't been to Belfast yet.

To transmit some of what it must be like, consider these words from some people who've been there, Mike and Pat, the leaders of this trip, who have said:

“What we expected and the reality of the trip were very different. We expected to do work and meet people and probably learn more about "The Troubles".

We were not aware of the extent of the continued division between the Protestants and Catholics. The so called "Peace Wall" is huge. There is over 27 miles of fortified wall/fence that is between 30 & 50 feet tall dividing the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.

Springfield Road Methodist Church straddles the Wall. It has been firebombed 4 times (2 times by each side) because it serves as a safe meeting place for people from both sides.

What we didn't expect was to meet some of the bravest people we have ever known:

The "Golden Girls" a group of Protestant and Catholic women have been meeting together since WWII because they are friends and it is the right thing to do. They have experienced violent altercations and had their lives and families threatened and killed because they continue to seek and live lives of peace for all sides.

Fr. Jerry Reynolds, a Catholic Priest, and Re. Dennis Cooke, Methodist Theologian, who risked their lives to visit with families on both sides who had family members killed during The Troubles.”

Unfortunately, despite the work of these heroes, others in Northern Ireland are still bent on violence. A group that calls itself the Real IRA has recently engaged in violent attacks. For instance:

Three injured in Armagh bomb attack

Friday, 23 April 2010 Belfast Telegraph

Three people were injured after a bomb exploded outside a police station in Northern Ireland, police said.

The blast happened at the Newtownhamilton police station in County Armagh at around 11.25pm on Thursday night.

Three people were taken to hospital in Newry, but their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.

Police were alerted by a call to a Belfast hospital that a vehicle had been abandoned in the area and were en route to the scene when the device exploded.

Homes in the area were evacuated and Newtownhamilton High School was opened up for residents.

A spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: "Police were made aware that a vehicle had been abandoned in the area after a telephone call was received by a Belfast hospital at around 10.30pm.

"Police were en route to the scene at the time of the explosion."

Nearby properties were damaged in the blast and the town centre was cordoned off.

Ten days ago, a device inside a vehicle was defused outside Newtownhamilton police station.

It came soon after a Real IRA car bomb exploded outside the regional headquarters of M15 in Holywood, Co Down.

After that attack, this news came out:

Monday, 26 April 2010 Belfast Telegraph
Police officers intimidated out of their homes by republicans, police chiefs say

Over 20 police officers and their families in Northern Ireland have been intimidated into leaving their homes by dissident republicans since January, it has been revealed.

The policy of pushing ahead with downsized security despite the danger has seriously weakened the capability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to respond, a group which represents rank and file officers said.

Last week a barracks at Newtownhamilton, Co Armagh, was attacked for the second time in a fortnight.

Police Federation chairman Terry Spence said: "The attacks reflect a growing confidence and competence among dissident republicans and that they are aware that the police are not responding sufficiently robustly to deter them.

"Unless there is a massive step change in the security response we will gradually sleepwalk into a renewal of a full-blown, murderous terrorist campaign."

Since January there have been 18 bomb and mortar attacks, 18 gun attacks, an officer seriously and permanently maimed, and 24 officers and their families intimidated from their homes, the vast majority by dissident republicans.

Mr Spence added: "The latest incident last week, when Newtownhamilton Police Station was attacked for the second time in two weeks, illustrates all too clearly the ineffectiveness of our response as a police service to protecting the community."

I am not meaning to take sides here. These just happen to be two recent news posts and I feel they show significant amounts of hatred, anger, and violence persist in Northern Ireland.

A church and a community center are important anywhere in America. They can be life savers to individual people and can provide critical guidance and connection to their communities. However in the backdrop of past and ongoing violence in Northern Ireland, the Springfield Road Methodist Church and the Forthspring Community Group are vital components to spread tolerance and grace among these separated communities who both worship the same God.

For more about peace and reconciliation in Ireland, especially Northern Ireland, check out this talk by Reverend Harold Goode.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Captain James Burke

The internet is a big place in which to search for your ancestors. But many years ago I thought enough posts were on the web that I might find something about my ancestors there.

My mom had kept two obituaries carefully preserved. The paper was going past yellow to brown, but the fraying clippings were legible. One obituary was of my grandfather, Kenneth Burke, my mom's father, who fought in World War I and was a newspaper writer. The other was of my great-grandfather, a newspaper editor in Staten Island, in New York City, and in other areas.

I used those clippings to search for their names in association with Staten Island. Fairly quickly I found a web site with information about a gentleman with the correct last name, Burke, who came over from Ireland and joined the Marines for the North during the US Civil War. I scanned the site and saw a discussion about one of his offspring being an attorney of note on Staten Island. I thought to myself, I never heard of an attorney being in my mom's family.

So I went on to explore dozens of other potential leads, finding nothing pertaining to my mom's relatives.

I went back to a simple web search again and ended up back staring at this gentleman who was a Marine in the US Civil War.

As I read more carefully, amazing to me, I found a reference to the name of my great grandfather who was stated to be a newspaper editor.

I contacted the contributor of the post and exchanged information with a nice man. The nice man turned out to be my cousin and I suddenly found out my great great grandfather was Captain James Burke, the Civil War Marine, who came over from Limerick, Ireland. In fact, my great grandfather was born in Ireland and brought over here as an infant.

My cousin helped me get my great grandfather's and grandfather's obituaries on the web too.

I got a big laugh out of something I read about Captain James Burke.

I've written poetry my whole life. None of my immediate relatives write poetry. I wasn't really sure from where I got this interest.

Turns out Captain James Burke wrote poetry. He was published in Harpers. One of his poems was excerpted in a relatively recent book about Staten Island entitled Staten Island: Isle of the Bay, published in 2004, and written by Margaret Lundrigan.

So who knows what stirs in your background from an ancestor you or your family have forgotten?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More About the Volcanic Cloud

Which is more unpredictable:

Eyjafjallajökull or

The human reaction to the ash in the air?

The airlines started complaining. Some airlines made empty plane trips, some at low altitude through areas where the cloud exists. No obvious damage.

So the European flight controllers said they would designate the airspace above the continent into three zones — one closest to the volcano where air traffic would be completely restricted, another zone with partial flight restrictions, and a third zone, free of ash, where flights could resume completely.

They no sooner made announcements about opening up a United Kingdom airport in Scotland, with the possibility of more airports in Wales and England, when the volcano in Iceland burped, and the situation for the airports in Northern Ireland was changed to "uncertain".

The official prognosis for Dublin Aiport was:

"Limited flight operations from Dublin Airport on Tuesday 20th April

The Irish Aviation Authority(IAA) have advised us that they expect to resume some air traffic services on a phased based from 05.00 , Tuesday 20th April. The IAA have also indicated that normal operations are not expected to be in place for up to three or four days."

But then after the volcanic burp, the announcement came out:

"06:30 hours: Latest on flight disruptions at Dublin Airport

The IAA have advised us that following a renewed eruption of the Icelandic volcano yesterday afternoon and prevailing weather conditions plans to open Irish airspace have been dashed.

The IAA have also advised us that Ireland is now at the centre of a contamination zone up to at least 1300 hours today, Tuesday 20th April.

This effectively means that no flights will land or take off at Dublin Airport today.

Passengers are advised to consult with their airline or airline’s website BEFORE coming to Dublin Airport."

Now my trip isn't for 2 weeks, but...I am beginning to wonder.

I didn't think about why Iceland is volcanic until recently. Iceland is on the mid-Atlantic ridge. The tectonic plates are moving apart, thinning the crust. This allows lava to reach the surface. Iceland has more than 100 volcanoes, of which over twenty five have erupted in recent history. Iceland is so active with volcanoes, approximately a third of the lava erupted in the last 500 years has erupted there.

This eruption is considered sub-glacial, or under glacial depth ice. Iceland has 83 percent of the worlds sub-glacial eruptions.

This present eruption converted into a sub-glacial eruption. When a volcano happens under a thick layer of ice, interesting things happen.

The one that matters with regard to this cloud is that the ice turns to water and the ice and water become shallow enough to erupt explosively. Not the kind of eruption where the whole top of the mountain is thrown in the air, but where the magma (really hot lava) cools rapidly, forming a kind of glass, and the magma cracks allowing the water to penetrate further. The process starts to feed itself - more water - more cracks. The magma is cooling but since it started out so hot, it has plenty of heat to turn a whole lot of water to steam in a hurry. This steam escapes in a hurry carrying loose ash it picks up with it, sending the ash high in the sky.

A competing theory is that there is "explosive thermal contraction of particles under rapid cooling from contact with water." I'm not sure how that works because contraction implies shrinkage, not expansion, but most geologists think both happen anyway.

Since water is consumed in the process, I don't see how this can go on too long. But if new areas of ice are contacted, or fresh volumes of magma rise...

So we sit and wait while the volcano reminds us we live at the mercy of forces beyond our ability to influence or control.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I laughed when I saw: Eyjafjallajökull.

That's the name of the volcano which erupted differently in Iceland in the last few days and is preventing air travel over a broad swath of Europe. I said “differently” because somehow the volcano went from leaking lava to spewing silica dust into the earth's upper atmosphere. Heat, minerals, water, and pressurized gas can be amazing!

At times, the cloud has laid high over Ireland preventing air travel to the island or even through its airspace.

I, of course, have been following developments because our mission trip to Belfast is a little more than two weeks away. Figures it is another island in the North Atlantic which is the source of the trouble.

I remember laughing when I looked at the spelling in much of the Irish language. Now the joke is on me as my tongue is feeling awkward looking at this jumble of letters from Iceland.

The media uses the name “of the volcano in Iceland” once in awhile, but has to use all kinds of creative references to avoid using Eyjafjallajökull and thereby losing impatient readers.

The Icelandic media and people have three choices:

1.Just keep using the volcano's proper name and letting all but the New York Times refer to “that volcano in Iceland” which doesn't make those not fluent in Icelandic feel positively about the place or the country.
2.Go for broke. Release a rock video with that spare thumping Scandinavian beat which repeats the name a billion times. The world loves authentic words and the elite love dropping the city name “Reykjavík” into a conversation (yes, it is a major city in Iceland), so perhaps this word could become the next cute word of the new century.
3.Come up with a nick name. Perhaps a shortening to “Eyjah” (pronounced A-djyuh? Careful or it'll sound like that female Irish singer with the single word moniker – Enya. Did you know her full name is Eithne Ní Bhraonáin?). Or shorten the other end of the name and get “Jökull” (pronounced Yoh-kul? This, by coincidence in America, is a somewhat derogatory term for a local and simple person who comes from a rural area. This one seems to present a difficult spin.)

Which do you prefer?

I wonder if Icelandic language has all those interesting letter combinations for any of the same reasons as Irish?

Irish has one letter which is actually a modifier, sort of like punctuation or a visual cue. It's the letter “h” which changes the letter before it. For instance, after a “c”, the combination “ch” gets extra breath across the top of the tongue, like in the German “Achtung” or in the Yiddish “Chutzpah”. The Irish grammarians call this change cause by "h" to be lenition or aspiration.

Irish words contain vowels which are largely unpronounced but modify the consonants they surround. Certain vowel combinations produce unique vowel sounds not represented by singule vowels.

All this comes from the fact that the letters from English speakers are being applied to a language which was spoken for a long time before it was written and English letters are being adapted in a semi-systematic way.

I expect something similar was done to Icelandic.

I think of the people from Iceland as from the same stock as those which were labeled “Vikings”. Ireland was invaded by the Vikings near the end of the first millenia. The Irish took to building cylindrical stone towers with the door up high, through which they could pull their wooden ladder or pole so rendering entry very challenging for the Vikings. Eventually, amicable trade broke out, followed by intermarriage and that same Viking heritage changed Ireland.

In the Irish language, the words from the Vikings are labeled as coming from “Old Norse”. For instance, “brog” means shoe in Irish and in Old Norse the same word was “brók”. Or here's one that is similar in all three languages: “margadh” in Irish and “markadr” in Old Norse both mean “market” in English.

So the active volcano (bolcán beo in Irish, pronounced “bul-kawn bo”) in Iceland, affectionately known as “Eyjafjallajökull” reminds us all of the relatedness of the peoples known as Vikings, Old Norse, Scandinavian, Icelandic, English, and Irish. Hopefully, the volcano becomes a bolcán suanach (dormant volcano) in two weeks or the winds shift, allowing us to get into Dublin.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Roots of the Conflict

Where should we start with the conflict and troubles between Christian denominations in Ireland?

In 1169, a group of Norman, Welsh and Flemish forces came ashore in Wexford, Ireland.

Why did these foreigners invade Ireland?

They were invited by Dermot MacMurrough, or Diarmait Mac Murchada in Irish, the ousted King of Leinster who sought their help in regaining his kingdom. Leinster was, and still is, the eastern portion of Ireland. Diarmait only wanted the foreign help getting his Kingship of Leinster back. He planned that after this, he would become the High King of Ireland. However, in the process his son, who had been taken hostage, was killed and in his grief, Diarmait died a few months later.

The leader of the foreign knights was Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, alias Strongbow. He had been promised the hand of Diarmait's daughter, Aoife of Leinster, as an incentive to conduct the invasion. Aoife married Strongbow in 1170.

Then Henry II over in England became concerned and ordered the foreign invaders back to England. When Diarmait died, Strongbow said as he was now King of Leinster, he had to stay to rule his land.

Supposedly, the Holy Catholic Church owned all of Ireland. Henry II had gotten the Pope, who just happened to be English, to state he could invade Ireland back in 1155. Seeing Strongbow accumulating so much land, Henry II decided to invade Ireland himself. In months he had rolled up all of Ireland and obtained the submission of the Irish Kings.

Did you follow all that?

Maybe I'm a shallow American, but my eyes tend to glaze over when these seemingly complicated histories are told. I am not bored, just lost. My ancestors are both Irish and English, so I don't even have a side to root for. I've simplified this telling, and you could guess the rest of the story which leads up to the present day conflict in Northern Ireland is long and detailed.

But let's look at this story for a moment.

An ousted king. Swashbuckling knights invading. A queen marrying one of the invading knights. It's all so human and has been played out probably thousands of times across the globe over the eons. But this is when this whole Irish/English conflict all started.

Just prior to these events, Ireland was invaded multiple times by Vikings. The Vikings came to hold big territories in Ireland. Many of the Vikings came to live in Ireland and were absorbed into the populace. Somehow the Irish hold no resentment to those with Viking names. They don't bear any perceptible enmity to Norwegians or Swedish folks. So events that came after the English invasion of Ireland were also key.

Still, without Diarmait wanting to be king again, without Strongbow wanting to prove himself in leadership, without knights not wanting to prove themselves and gain riches, without Aoife marrying Strongbow, without the Pope having it written down that the Holy Catholic Church owned Ireland, without Henry II wanting to expand his kingdom, without any one of these things this whole conflict might not have started.

Over 800 years is a long conflict. Maybe not the longest, but it is long. The peace makers have their work cut out for them, right?

By the way, if any of you were worrying about Aoife being forced into an arranged marriage and all, she seems to have been able to take care of herself. Aoife fought in battles on behalf of her husband, Strongbow, and earned the nickname Red Eva or Aoife Rua in Irish.

And if you are interested in how this relates to subsequent history outside Ireland, the following people have Diarmait and Aoife as their ancestor:

George Washington, Marie-Antoinette, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Connections Through the Volunteer In Mission Trip to Belfast

When you start a new venture, you never know where it is going to lead or who you will meet along the way.

Saturday night the United Methodist Men of the Pawling Avenue United Methodist Church in Troy with the help of the entire Pawling Avenue United Methodist Church (The Welcome Church) held a fund raiser for the Volunteer In Mission organized Peace Mission to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Also, others from outside the local church came in support to work, to entertain, or to donate for their meals. I am proud and humbled by the amount of work people did and by the outpouring of well wishes and support.

I cannot name everyone here, but I want to especially thank the Boy Scouts from Troop 2502 who turned out to seat people, serve, and clean up.

I thank everyone who helped and everyone who came for a meal or ordered take out.

As I went from table to table or talked with people at the dinner, many told of their connections to Ireland, to people of Irish descent, or, in some cases, of their connections to Northern Ireland. I treasure every one of these personal stories! And even those with no obvious connection, were generous in their hopes and prayers for the people in Ireland and for the people of Ireland to develop the ability to learn to live in peace and reconciliation.

Now, with God's help, I will endeavor to fulfill our mission to the best of my ability.

The mission is to help support the people of Belfast in Northern Ireland who are attempting to grow the peace between the Protestant and Catholic cultures. In our media driven world, once a place is no longer in the headlines, we assume people live in peace in relative affluence, or are, at least, getting better and better. We don't think about the pain, the changes, the work, the prayers, the risk taking, or the implementing God's love it takes to improve the world, to get people to forgive, to reach across the gulf between groups, to bond with their brothers and sisters.

You will be able to follow the progress of the mission on this blog in the coming weeks.

The leaders of our group have a description about the mission trip here:

The ecumenical community group in Northern Ireland we will be supporting have a web site here:

Watch here for future updates and links to even more.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My First Blog Picture

When I started at The Record Blog Page, I was the only one of two bloggers without a head shot promoting my page. I did replace it with the one you see there now. The other blog without a head shot was Talespin, which wasn't bad company. So, what was my non-headshot picture (see above) all about?

My picture of a man installing a thatch roof in Ireland was taken in 2005. More about it in a bit.

My wife, our two traveling companions, and I had stayed a night in a bed and breakfast, or BnB for short, outside of a town on the west coast of Ireland. I'm not going to be any more specific than that, because the place is small enough, people there could figure out who I'm talking about. Of course, five years have passed so things have probably changed for these people, but there is nothing to be gained by taking chances.

The woman who owned the BnB had told us the prior evening we'd have to leave the next night because all her rooms were reserved that night. Now that morning had come, she placed a series of calls to proprietors of other BnBs in that town with whom she clearly was well acquainted. She popped into the sun-room to tell us she'd found us a vacancy at a wonderful BnB right in Town, steps away from the stores and a pub known for its traditional music sessions. She said the proprietor was wonderful and had a lovely daughter who was training to take over the BnB someday. She had no doubt we'd have the best service.

We followed her directions awhile later and found a delightful place with pastures on three sides but located on the back side of the main street. The cattle over the stone walls made it look like upstate New York melded with a Kinkade cottage. Our male friend and I explored the perimeter of the home, knocked on every door, but saw no signs of anyone.

We got in the rental car to leave when a small car pulled in snappy and a young woman with dark hair flung open the car door. She apologized profusely, introduced herself as Nora, and set about to familiarize us with the abode. Still, out of breath she said her mother was the actual proprietor and she, Nora, was just helping out. Our male friend said, “Oh, you must be the daughter who will take the reins someday for this lovely BnB.”

Nora stopped in her tracks. She said, “Welllllll, who was saying that?” Our male friend tried to back peddle by saying, “Oh, it was just an offhand comment from someone at the last place we stayed. She probably was more speculating than knowing.”

The face of the young girl visibly clouded. Her face wasn't angry, but she looked determined as she said, “People around here tend to assume everyone follows their parents' career. I'm a world economics major at Trinity. I don't know where I'll be living after I graduate, but I know I won't be here. There aren't any positions for world economists here, are there?”

So there you have a slice of modern Ireland. Gracious hosts living in a beautiful land, often respectful of history and heritage, but growing in ambition and integration with Europe and the world.

So back to the picture I chose back when I started.

The man is installing a thatch roof. Such roofs have been protecting homes in Ireland, and elsewhere, for centuries, nah, for millennia. They are especially fetching to Americans, such as me, because they remind us of the picturesque Ireland our relatives left behind.

But if you look closely, this fellow is talking on a cell phone!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welcome to my blog!

What is your idea or experience of being Irish?

Can you be Irish in America? Mexico? Australia? Anywhere?

Meanwhile, what's it like to be Irish in Ireland?

What makes these experiences related?

This blog will explore these questions through my own experiences reviving my partial Irish heritage and the stories I collect from others.

Right off the bat, you should know my great, great grandfather on my mother's side came over from Ireland and fought in the US Civil War as a marine for the North. His oldest son, my great grandfather was born in Ireland but came over with his father as an infant or toddler.

On my father's side, information is harder to come by, but one of my great, great grandfathers was Irish and came to settle in western New York from Boston. The mystery is he changed his name at the same time, which raises the question, what was that all about?

Five years ago my wife and I traveled to Ireland with another couple as tourists and had a great time.

Right around that same time as that trip, I became interested in the Irish language and in delving deeper in the Irish culture.

Recently, I have become a member of a peace mission to Northern Ireland in early May. A pastor who is a friend with my pastor had gone last year on a similar mission. I had picked up on the issues in Northern Ireland in my own research but my eyes have really been opened as I hear about their current troubles.

We are going to help build a community center that is on the border of the Protestant and Catholic sides, so people from both groups can come and interact. These people otherwise do not interact much so we really want to support reconciliation.

These groups live in sharply divided areas in Northern Ireland. There is a 50-foot wall separating the sides through Belfast. Instead of tearing down walls, they are building them higher. The conflict has been ongoing for 600 years but there has been relative peace for about 10 years. Recently the radicals on both sides have been trying to recruit the young people to incite violence.

So this blog will initially report on that peace mission trip, but will mix in the wider experiences of the Irish in Ireland and abroad.