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    ¡Feliz compleaños, Southern Cross! Oldest diaspora publication celebrates 135 years

    Friday, January 15th, 2010

    The oldest newspaper of the Irish diaspora, Argentina’s “Southern Cross” celebrates its 135th anniversary this month.

    The paper was founded in Buenos Aires on January 16, 1875 by Fr Patrick (Patricio) Dillon, an Irish missionary priest who later became active in politics.  At the time, the Irish community numbered only 9,000. Among its editors was the writer William Bulfin, author of ” Tales of the Pampas ” and “Rambles in Eirinn?. More recently, Guillermo MacLoughlin Bréard became the 14th editor, the youngest ever to take the position.

    The paper was published in English in 1964, when it switched to mostly Spanish, reflecting the changing language of the Irish population as it assimilated. Today the Argentinean-Irish community numbers around half a million.

    The Southern Cross is still going strong, with several new contributors, some of them based overseas. A special edition of the newspaper is in preparation, focusing on the history and accomplishments of the community.

    The achievement of 135 years is certainly to be celebrated! It’s a tribute to the community that it has supported the paper for so long. The oldest Irish paper in the US, New York’s Irish Echo, is a mere 81 years old.

    Here is the editorial that was published in “The Southern Cross? this month.

    135 YEARS

    With legitímate pride we celebrate our 135 years of existence as the oldest Irish newspaper in the world published outside of Ireland.  Not even our founder, Dean Patricio Dillon, way back on 16th January 1875, when The Southern Cross hit the streets, nor many of his successors, imagined we would surpass the XXI Century border to arrive at this celebration.

    During a more than centennial lifetime, our newspaper has known good and bad times, but all along it has managed to maintain unchanged its essential mission as a communicator of all events related to the local Irish-Argentine community, as well as of major developments occurring in Ireland and in Argentina.

    Moreover, The Southern Cross is the dean of catholic publications in this country as well as of community newspapers in Argentina.  Both distinction are an honour and strengthens our commitment to continue the strenuous task of spreading Christian ideals as well as the most noble republican convictions and unconditional defense of freedom of expression.

    Throughout the years we have learned to adapt to technical changes, incorporating modern composition and printing technologies, as a result of which our newspaper is widely recognized by its quality and contents, thanks to the hard work of a valuable team.

    This significant anniversary finds us in the middle of a journalistic renewal process, with the inclusion of new contributors and additional subjects, though unfortunately facing financial difficulties that obstruct our daily task.  However, with new ideas, with the support of loyal subscribers and generous advertisers, together with the performance of highly professional staff added to the eager dedication of all members of the board of Editorial Irlandesa S.A. we are confident in our ability to stay afloat and reach a safe harbour following the guidelines outlined in our editorial “New Directions? (May 2009).

    This celebration belongs to all of us.  We renew our commitment with the entire community and pray to the Almighty and to Saint Patrick for their continued guidance in this noble task.  Let it be!

    Related sites:

    Canadian Association for Irish Studies: Halifax, May 2010

    Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

    Call for papers for the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Irish Studies to be held at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, May 19-22, 2010.

    Success and Failure in Modern Ireland

    Canadian Association for Irish Studies/ l’Association canadienne d’études irlandaises Annual Conference, 2010
    Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
    19-22 May 2010

    “Anyone who is failing at one thing,” psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has  suggested, “is always succeeding at another.” We invite proposals for papers interrogating the relationship between success and failure in modern and contemporary Ireland, as reflected in its politics, its economic policies, its literature, and its popular culture. The Celtic Tiger is one obvious recent example of a ‘success’ narrative that was intimately linked to a series of failures on the part of Irish society to safeguard its more vulnerable communities. With the recent publication of the “Ryan Report,” to cite another example, it is clear that the success of the Catholic Church in exerting its power over Ireland’s educational and reformatory institutions came at the price of a failure to guarantee the safety and welfare of Ireland’s youth. By the same token, it might be argued that Fianna Fáil’s longtime political success depended on the failure to engage with the ‘National Question,’ i.e., Partition and Northern Ireland. Success and failure, as manifested in language revival policies, in gender-related issues, in the lives of prominent public figures, and the reality and perceptions of the Irish diaspora, including the Irish in Canada, are also topics worthy of consideration.

    We welcome papers that address other topics and proposals for special panels.

    Please send proposals including contact information (250 words) by
    e-mail to:
    Pádraig Ó Siadhail, D’Arcy McGee Chair of Irish Studies, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 3C3
    ( by 15 January 2010.

    Are the Welsh jealous of our diaspora?

    Monday, December 7th, 2009

    A group of representatives from Welsh cultural institutions say that Wales should use Ireland as  a model for promoting Welsh culture – but note that the power of the Irish diaspora gives Ireland a big head start.

    Wales Online reports that experts from the National Museum of Wales, Arts Council of Wales, Welsh National Opera, Welsh Language Board and National Eisteddfod met with representatives from the Assembly Government and Visit Wales to discuss global market strategies.  They said that Wales had cultural assets to match those of Ireland, but suffered from a lower profile.

    National Museum of Wales director general Michael Houlihan said: “Wales has a job to do on an international front. If you go to the States the Irish diaspora is very strong, whereas for Wales there is still a lot of work to be done.”
    Heledd Fyhan, advocacy and policy officer at the National Museum of Wales, sounded positively envious of Ireland as she said: “We are still very unclear how to market ourselves. The Irish market their music, their castles and art collections brilliantly – even though they are not as good as ours.”


    John Wake, a director of Capital Region Tourism, however, blamed some intrinsic differences between the Welsh and the Irish for the imbalance in their global profiles:

    What Ireland have got is a happy-go-lucky attitude to life. The culture is drinking, smiling, being one of the lads or one of the girls. I don’t think we could copy that. We have our own identity that is very different. To compare us with Ireland is unrealistic.

    Ireland has Guinness, pubs and leprechauns and we don’t have any of that. What is the biggest parade of the year in New York? St Patrick’s Day. In Wales we celebrate St Patrick’s Day and Burns Night more than St David’s Day. Why don’t we have a Dylan Thomas night?

    Hmmm… We sound like a sozzled bunch, I guess, but at least our diaspora consumes our culture.

    Related web page:

    “Irish in Britain” event debates diaspora role

    Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

    I did up this report for the Irish Emigrant newsletter at

    UCD’s John Hume Institute brought its third annual Irish Diaspora Forum to London this week, bringing together politicians, historians, writers, business executives and others from the Irish community.  UCD president Hugh Brady joked that the “Irish in Britain” event allowed London to become “Connemara East” for the day. He called the forum series “a rolling conversation exploring the nature of the relationship between Ireland and Irish people and people who identify with Ireland.” The first two  forums, which were co-organised by Irish America magazine and The Ireland Funds along with UCD, were held in 2007 in New York and in 2008 in Dublin.

    The speakers at this year’s event, which drew about 100 people, included academics Mary Daly, Diarmaid Ferriter, Declan Kiberd, Mary Hickman and Cormac O’Grada; writer Frank McGuinness; Olympian John Treacy; legendary sports broadcaster Micheal O Muircheartaigh;  former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald, and many more. The panel sessions explored three themes: the Irish Diaspora as agents of political change, Diaspora as creative impulse, and cultural branding in the Diaspora. The final session asked the question “What does the future hold for Ireland and its Diaspora?” It was a day of lively debate, with contrasting views of the Diaspora and the future role of emigrants emerging.

    One of the highlights was the awarding of the UCD John Hume Medal to former president Mary Robinson. While the award recognised the work Ms Robinson had done on raising the profile of the Irish abroad during her presidency in the 1990s, she made it clear that there were many in Ireland who had not appreciated the importance of the diaspora at the time. She described the response in the Oireachtas as she gave her ground-breaking speech, “Cherishing the Diaspora”: “it was going down like a lead balloon… there was no doubt in my mind that members of the Oireachtas did not want to hear [about the diaspora]“. She said she left the speech, deeply depressed, but then “messages started to come in from all over the world,” and Ms Robinson realised her speech had meant a great deal to the Irish abroad. Ted Kennedy even entered the speech into the US Congressional record. The contrast between the response of the Irish in Ireland and the global Irish response “reinforced my sense that we underestimated our diaspora”, she said.

    Much has changed since then, and the Irish Diaspora, of course, is enjoying a high profile in Ireland these days; the recent Farmleigh Conference in particular has raised questions about what role the Irish Diaspora might play in Ireland’s future and its economic development. But the crisis that served as the impetus for this new outreach to the Diaspora has also sparked a renewed uptick in emigration by the young unemployed. It was this dual reality that was at the heart of one of the differences that emerged in the day: whether the dominant image of the Irish worldwide was more accurately portrayed as that of a global professional, entrepreneurial class or that of a sometimes vulnerable, potentially marginalized, migratory workforce at the mercy of the global economy.

    Most of the attendees and speakers were at the professional end of the spectrum: this was an event that was pitched at UCD alumni living in London, and with a 55-euro fee and a setting in the Royal Society, the event would probably have seemed inaccessible to less affluent members of the Irish community.

    It was a consideration of the most vulnerable Irish emigrants, however, that provoked the most passionate contribution of the day, from writer Frank McGuinness. He discussed Children of the Dead End, the classic emigration novel written by Patrick MacGill, describing MacGill as “one man who spoke out to give voice to the voiceless”. McGuinness outlined MacGill’s depiction of the Irish dispossessed, who had been failed by their families and their society: “their bodies are their own only insofar as they can be rented out for other’s benefits”, and their “contact with home would eventually be reduced to letters that said ‘Send money home’.”

    McGuinness said, “May we be forgiven for what we did – and continue to do – to our poorest”. Adding that the vast majority of the new class of emigrants are construction workers who left school young, he suggested that he would “give everyone emigrating a copy of this book”. It would serve as a warning: “You’re up for a fight – and be prepared for it.”

    One contributor, former Esat Digiphone CEO Barry Moloney, bridged the gap between the two visions of the diaspora when he envisioned that global Irish professionals had a role to play in preventing emigration in the future. Describing the diaspora as “the single most important thing that can help” in developing Ireland’s economy in the future, he said, “I take that responsibility very seriously”. He said that in forums such as this and the Farmleigh conference, economic strategising by the diaspora was “the number one agenda item if we’re going to help so our kids don’t have to go abroad again.”

    The issue of emigrant voting arose during several of the speaker’s contributions. Diarmaid Ferriter was the first to bring it up, noting how Polish politicians had courted the vote of the Poles living in Ireland. He asked, “Would the Irish political situation have been different had the Irish of the 1950s had the vote?”

    Mary Hickman noted that the issue of emigrant voting rights was “more taboo” than in the past, even though 115 nations allow emigrant voting rights. She also suggested that the diaspora, Northern Ireland and new immigrants presented a three-prong challenge to Ireland, noting that despite the reform of Article Two of the Constitution, “the national territory and its governance remain ring-fenced”.

    This issue provoked the most heated discussion of the day, as former Taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald suggested that the American Revolution’s famous rallying cry for democracy, “No taxation without representation” needed to be inverted in an Irish context into “No representation without taxation”. He also expressed fears about the candidates that the Irish in America, in particular, might vote for.

    Dermot Gallagher, the former secretary-general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, also voiced opposition to the idea of emigrant voting, citing a potential example of a woman in California with one Irish grandparent being eligible to vote (although Mary Hickman had explicitly stated that she was not proposing voting rights for second or later generations). Mr Gallagher did welcome an exploration of the idea of political participation by emigrants through representation in the Seanad, however.  Judging from the emotional response to the debate, the role of emigrants in Ireland’s political structures in the future is an issue likely to arise in the future.

    Mary Robinson, in one of the closing comments of the conference noted that the Irish diaspora doesn’t just want a connection with Ireland; there is “a notion of being able to reimagine Ireland because we’re making more of a link?. She pointed to the diaspora’s ability to bring greater understanding of our history, to act as a bridge on climate change, and to unite to create huge numbers of jobs as potential benefits of making and remaking connections within the diaspora.

    Related web pages:

    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:

    Political participation by the Irish abroad – Irish Times

    Saturday, November 14th, 2009

    Paul Gillespie has an article in today’s Irish Times calling for the formation of an organisation that would act as a representative body for the 70 million Irish abroad.

    He mentions this website as a source for more information on global emigrant voting rights — here are some links to more of what I’ve written on the topic:

    I’ve also got a factsheet on diaspora strategy, although it’s in need of some updating.

    I have long had an interest in the diaspora strategies of other European nations, and I’m the Irish representative and vice-president of Europeans Throughout the World, a body comprised of the expat representative associations of the nations of Europe.

    Here are some posts highlighting their activities:

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