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    Diaspora a reason to rejoin the Commonwealth?

    Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

    A new group urging that Ireland rejoin the Commonwealth has invoked the Irish diaspora in support of the idea.

    In a letter that appeared in the Irish Times, the backers of “Ireland and the Commonwealth” said,

    Members of the Commonwealth share a common heritage and history, including an Irish diaspora of some 20 million people – an international community that seems certain to grow as many people are forced by economic circumstances to emigrate from Ireland.

    The letter continued with an outline of the Commonwealth’s benefits:

    Membership of the Commonwealth is more relevant than ever as Ireland faces its worst economic crisis since the foundation of the state. The county is going to need all the friends and connections it can get in the perilous economic times that lie ahead. The Commonwealth is not an alternative or substitute for Ireland’s membership of other international bodies such as the EU or the UN but it could prove to be an invaluable addition if our worst fears about the global economic crisis are fulfilled.

    Ireland’s membership of the Commonwealth would, we are sure, be welcomed by the unionist community in Northern Ireland as significant gesture of reconciliation. It would add to the collaborative framework established by the Belfast and St Andrew’s agreements. It would demonstrate unequivocally that the Republic has finally drawn a line under the troubled history of Anglo-Irish relations that led to Ireland’s self-exclusion from the Commonwealth 60 years ago. It would represent a further important step along the road to a pluralist Ireland in which different identities are recognised and respected, a country that celebrates its multi-cultural heritage and diverse history.

    A follow-up letter in the Irish Times noted, however, that “‘Commonwealth citizens’ have no extra rights of travel or work – for instance, they need to apply for a visa to visit member-state Australia, just as Irish people do.”

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    Film highlights Irish immigration to English town

    Monday, March 30th, 2009

    Two filmmakers in South Tyneside, England, have made a documentary about the impact of immigration into the town of Jarrow.

    Director Gary Wilkinson and playwright Tom Kelly created “Little Ireland” using archive material, photographs and interviews with descendants of Irish immigrants.

    The 40-minute film has been an instant success at home, selling out two screenings in South Shields earlier this month.

    The pair are now trying to interest Irish film festivals, and have sent out copies to film festivals in Dublin, Belfast, Waterford and Cork.
    The film is available from the South Shields Central Library for £10.

    See related web pages:

    Mystery of immigrants’ mass grave may be solved

    Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

    The mass grave of a group of Irish railroad workers who died in 1832 during a cholera outbreak may have been located at last, thanks to the efforts of researchers in Pennsylvania who have spent six years searching.

    The 57 men had arrived from Derry, Donegal, and Tyrone, hired by fellow Irishman Philip Duffy to build the railway. They were all dead within six weeks, felled by a cholera outbreak – and researchers believe some men may have been murdered. Their families were never notified, and the men would have been forever forgotten had Immaculata University professor William Watson and his historian brother Frank not discovered a mention of the deaths in a file owned by their late grandfather, a former railway worker.

    The men were believed to have been buried somewhere in Duffy’s Cut, an area near Philadelphia, but the exact location of their remains was unknown until a team led by the Walsh brothers and professors at Immaculata University began a search in 2003.

    It wasn’t until last week that the team discovered human remains. Researchers are now hoping to match DNA recovered from the bodies with that of families in Ireland in order to identify the remains and re-bury them in Ireland. They have used ships passenger lists to discover fifteen of the 57 men’s names.

    News of the find has been widely reported in the US.  The men’s story has been told in a film, “The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut”,  which is available on the Duffy’s Cut project website.

    Related webpages:

    A reminder of the Irish in Barbados

    Monday, March 23rd, 2009

    An Irish Independent article on property investment in Barbados also reminds us of the dark days of the sugar plantations of the seventeenth century.

    Many of the Irish arrived there after Oliver Cromwell took them off their land and sold them into slavery or indenture to British planters. Estimates of the numbers of Irish transported in this way range from 12,000 to 60,000, according to a Yale University web page.

    The article says:

    The historic plantation houses and old churches like St John’s, which holds the graves of some of the many Irish who helped build the sugar trade, offer something very different from the usual sun, sand and sea. . . and a stark reminder of just how far both countries have travelled since the dark days of slavery and colonisation.

    Read the whole article: Barbados: Mix history with sun, sea and sand for perfect holiday home

    Related web pages and resources:

    Of course, there were a smaller number of Irish who benefited from the slave trade in the Caribbean; historian Donald Akenson’s If the Irish Ran the World tells the story of an Irish colony that  participated in imperialism.

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