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Ireland

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Every 10 years, the people at the head of the annual Miller Place-Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade honor all the past community members who were lucky enough to be named grand marshal.

As the annual parade looks down the barrel of its 70th anniversary, the people who run the second oldest parade in Suffolk County have the task of respecting the past while looking to continue its run into the future.

The Friends of St. Patrick, a group of volunteers who have helped put on the parade for the last seven decades, hosted its third annual Luck of the Irish Casino Night March 6. During the group’s biggest yearly fundraiser, members said they were not only acknowledging the past, but trying to look toward the future.  

“It costs about $40,000 to put this parade on, so fundraisers like this really help.”

— Hugh McCarrick

Unlike previous years when members would nominate a queen and her court, along with a grand marshal, this year members announced instead they would be supporting a local student with a $1,000 scholarship. 

“The applications for [the queen and her court] were going way down, and we were seeing it as sort of a bygone era,” said James McElhone, the recently installed treasurer of the Friends of St. Patrick. “We decided to make it a scholarship that would be rotating between several local high schools to encourage people to write an essay on their Irish heritage.”

This year, Alexa Zichinelli, a senior at Miller Place High School, won with her essay about her Irish heritage, particularly of her great grandmother on her father’s side who came from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine. 

Her grandmother often talks about that history, of when her own mother was in County Clare in Ireland. Zichinelli wrote about the Irish folklore her grandmother loves to talk about, along with the family she left behind.

“Going to where my great-grandmother was from in Ireland, she lived by these rocks that she described looked over a cliff, so it was just kind of magic, where she was from,” she said.

Zichinelli said she will put the scholarship to use, as she intends to go to college for premed, particularly on the path toward being a pediatric heart surgeon. 

Those who have been grand marshal in the past see the parade differently than most. It’s a tradition, yes, but it’s also been a way to celebrate and even define the North Shore communities along the Route 25A corridor. With 70 years of history, grand marshals have included noted community members like state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who was named grand marshal in 1989.

One family sticks out among those in the Rocky Point area. The McCarrick family owns property in the Rocky Point shopping district that once included the famed McCarrick’s Dairy before it closed in 2017 and later became a 7/11. Hugh McCarrick, one of the officers of the Friends of St. Patrick, said nine separate members of the McCarrick clan have been named grand marshal over the years. He and his brother Kevin, along with a slew of other past marshals, were both honored at the casino night March 6.

“Seventy means a tremendous amount.”

— Walter Colleran

Hugh McCarrick, who was named grand marshal in 1997, said going forward the objective is to make the parade more interesting every year, but with around 85 units in the parade this year, he added they are going strong. He thanked East Wind for hosting the fundraiser, which is easily its biggest of the year.

“It costs about $40,000 to put this parade on, so fundraisers like this really help,” he said.

Mike Tatilian, a grand marshal in 2015 and past president of the Friends of St. Patrick, said times have changed and they are always trying to bring in flesh blood to help out. Nothing else says that times have changed in seven decades than the number of St. Patrick’s Day parades around Suffolk County. While the Huntington parade is in its 86th year, hamlets like Kings Park and Jamesport are celebrating only their 10th and seventh years, respectively, of the annual parade. Tatilian said they’re always trying to compete for spectators, of which the MP-RP parade usually gets 25,000-30,000 along its 3-mile run. 

“There’s competition — you’re competing for fans,” he said. “When there used to be a few parades, now there’s many.”

Walter Colleran was named grand marshal in 2013 and said 70 years means a lot to a parade, also helping to display how its changed.

“Seventy means a tremendous amount — [the parade] started out years ago as an opportunity for everybody to hang out on the street and drink beer, but over the years it’s turned into a very family-oriented affair.”

A Brit Reviews the UK’s Eventual Withdrawal from Europe

Stock photo

Part 3 of 3

By John Broven

When I started this series in March 2019, I wanted to give U.S. readers a Brit’s inside view on Brexit. The term has now become such common currency over here, rather like the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” that all I need explain is that Brexit refers to Britain exiting the European Union, which it duly did Jan. 31 of this year. On the same date the U.S. Senate rejected further witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R). It was hardly a red-letter day for western politics.

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

After publication of the first two articles, I was approached by residents of all age groups at the Stony Brook railroad station, in a deli, at a mall, in a coffee shop, at a party, even at an outdoor art show. Everyone expressed an intrigued interest in Brexit and, it’s fair to say, concern for my English home country. What on earth was going on? Why indulge in such potential self-harm?

When I left you with my June article, the United Kingdom and EU had agreed on another revised exit date, Oct. 31, but with no parliamentary majority the way forward was still far from clear. “Will there be a general election, second referendum, another EU extension or a hard no deal?” I asked.

It came to pass there was a general election Dec. 12 and a further EU extension to Jan. 31, with no second referendum or precipitous hard deal (to date). With the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, what happened in the interim?

A third prime minister in three years

For a start, on July 24, Boris Johnson achieved the prize he had wanted from his days as a privileged aristocratic youth at Eton College and Oxford University: the prime ministership of the U.K. After being elected as leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), he took over from the hapless Theresa May (C) who was unable to deliver on her promise to leave the EU after three years in the hot seat.

Brexit had thus claimed another victim, making Johnson the third prime minster since David Cameron (C) fell on his sword after a dismal and inept Vote Remain campaign during the June 2016 referendum.

Without a working majority, Johnson was confronted by a parliament determined to ensure that if Brexit happened there would be no hard deal. The new prime minister even tried, unsuccessfully, to suspend parliament for five weeks in an effort to stifle debate and ram through the withdrawal agreement by Oct. 31. Queen Elizabeth II was inadvertently embroiled when she dutifully signed the prorogation request of Johnson, who made the flimsy pretense of needing time to prepare for the Queen’s Speech, but the U.K. Supreme Court ruled otherwise. I suspect Her Majesty was not amused. 

There was clearly a power battle being fought between parliament and the prime minister, reminiscent of the current war of attrition between Congress and Trump. 

The generally pro-Brexit Tory Party, with its band of rabid hardliners, was armed with the 52-48 percent Voter Leave victory of the 2016 referendum. Amid calls from the Brexiters for “democracy” to be respected and with a definite all-round war weariness in the nation, it was clearly going to be difficult for the main opposition parties — Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Greens — to overturn “the will of the people.” 

At one time, the charismatic speaker of the House of Commons, John Burcow, even invoked an arcane 1604 parliamentary principle to stifle a government motion. (Think about it, that’s 16 years before the Mayflower landed on our shores.) However, the opposition could not find agreement among themselves for a unified approach, even with voting support from 21 Tory rebels. This rump included former Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond, Father of the House Ken Clarke and Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. Incredibly these respected establishment figures were thrown out of the Tory Party in petulant retribution. You see what I mean about parliamentary drama.  

With time running out, the EU begrudgingly extended the Oct. 31 deadline to Jan. 31 after a last-minute fudged agreement with Johnson over the vexatious Irish border backstop question.

December general election

Parliament was still in deadlock, but eventually a general election was called for Dec. 12. Campaigning on a resonating “Get Brexit done” ticket, Johnson won a huge working majority of 80 seats to break the parliamentary impasse. His Conservative Party brushed aside the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, also Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Labour, in its worst general election result since 1935, ignominiously saw the demolition of its “red wall” in the industrial north of England, the traditional home of socialism. The Lib-Dems, under Jo Swinson, went all out with a remain message. Yet this bright young leader couldn’t articulate on the stump the benefits of staying in Europe and she even lost her own parliamentary seat. 

The main opposition winners were the Scottish Nationalist Party, under Nicola Sturgeon, which swept Scotland. Watch out for a possible future referendum for Scotland to leave the U.K. and become a member of the EU. 

Richard Tapp, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, added in an email, “Besides the Scottish Nationalists, the pro-EU parties in Northern Ireland also did well, at the expense of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party whose leader in Westminster lost his seat to the nationalists of Sinn Fein who campaign for a united Ireland — and so remain in the EU.” 

Johnson had targeted the disaffected, forgotten part of the nation — the provincial middle class as well as the working class — with a Trump-like populist message, just as the new prime minister had done beforehand with the referendum. The general election was a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, both for his far-left policies and his “sit on the fence” approach to Brexit. 

Interestingly, there are concerns in the U.S. about the Democratic Party following the Labour/Corbyn route to self-destruction in the next election with a progressive socialist agenda. James Carville, President Bill Clinton’s (D) 1992 election-winning strategist, was particularly animated on the subject in the Financial Times and on “Morning Joe,” referring to the unelectable Corbyn by name.

Brexit is done

And so, with no obstacles in his way, Johnson “got it done” by signing a withdrawal agreement with the EU, meaning Britain officially left the union at the end of January after almost a half-century of membership. Brexit is now fully owned and controlled by the prime minister and his Conservative Party, with the background help of Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign’s victory in 2016. 

The coverage on BBC World News in Brussels revealed genuine European regret at the loss of Britain as a vital contributing member to the EU, including politicians from Poland and Sweden. Yet the expected party atmosphere in the U.K. didn’t materialize because the country was still split right down the middle — and it was raining on Farage’s celebration parade outside the Houses of Parliament. Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper had a perverse explanation for the low-keyed reaction: “On Jan. 31, many Brexiters spent their ultimate moment of triumph attacking elitist traitors instead of celebrating.” This revenge, he said, “is so much of the point of populism.” 

Those Brexit voters expecting a brand-new dawn, with a return to the glory days of the British Empire free of the EU yoke, will have to wait until at least Dec. 31 this year for all kinds of trade, security and legal negotiations to be agreed before the cord is cut. 

During this transition period the U.K. will continue in the EU’s custom union and single market, while still complying with EU rules (but without any more say in the lawmaking process in the European Parliament). Johnson has indicated there will be no extension, leading to the nightmare scenario of a possible no deal commencing Jan. 1, 2021. It will not be an easy negotiating ride.

I’m still of the view that a people’s referendum should never have been considered by Cameron on such a critical and complex matter, which will affect generations to come. His irresponsible bet was compounded by the Brexiters never explaining the downsides — and dangers — of leaving Europe, including diminished influence on the world stage. Already China is waiting in the wings.

Michael Hanna, of Hassocks, West Sussex, echoed my thoughts in an email on the night of Jan. 31: “In about two hours time Boris and his Gang will tear us out of the European Union on the say so of just 17.4 million, a mere 37 percent of the electorate. This is politically the saddest day of my life. For the last 47 years we have been members of the great European family of nations to which we should naturally belong. This has given us huge benefits which the Tory government is knowingly throwing away.”

With thanks for their on-the-spot observations to my British friends Roger Armstrong, Chris Bentley, Mike Hanna, Martin Hawkins, John Ridley and Richard Tapp. 

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books and is currently editing the first book on New York blues.

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A close-up of the peace wall in the Shankill Road area of Belfast. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

After two weeks in the Republic of Ireland, my wife and I arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a tour around the city. For the next two and a half hours we looked at, photographed and listened to our tour guide tell us about Belfast sights including the memorials, statues and paintings on walls in both the Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast.

It is easy to judge from the murals painted on the walls in both Catholic and Protestant areas that little has changed in attitudes and positions concerning the divisions that existed before the peace (in 2007) that stopped most of the violence. However, there are examples of new murals calling for harmony and brotherhood in both sectarian areas that are replacing the many militant murals that have, for a long time, promoted hate, distrust and fear. There are also a number of memorial gardens commemorating those killed during the Troubles, as the fighting in Northern Ireland for more than three decades is identified.

The peace wall of Belfast where messages of unity are shared. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The fences and gates dividing the two sides are still there, but there are no restrictions on driving through any area except that some gates between Catholic and Protestant areas are still closed at night, according to our tour guide and confirmed by many reports and websites. In the Shankill Road area, a so-called peace wall separating Catholic and Protestant communities, originally constructed to keep the peace between factions, now contains many thousands of personal messages of goodwill and unity. The wall is topped by corrugated steel panels, which in turn are topped by steel screens or fence that appear to be about 40 feet high. Erected during the Troubles, there is no indication that these walls, dividing the population of Belfast both physically and culturally, are to be removed any time soon.

Belfast, as well as much of Ireland, both north and south, has an economy based in large part on tourism. After experiencing the sectarian divide in Belfast, our tour took us to the Titanic Quarter. An area that was once a thriving shipbuilding area and then a deteriorating industrial site is now an area of high-rise condos, an entertainment center and the impressive Titanic Experience, opened in 2012, inside the area known as Titanic Belfast.

Before our tour, we were given personal multimedia electronic guides with headsets that help guide visitors through the four floors of Titanic Experience. The tour starts with the history of Belfast especially detailing the rise of the linen industry through factory work and the history of shipbuilding in Belfast that culminates in the building of the Titanic.

The Titanic Experience has a total of nine interpretive and interactive galleries that expose you to the sights, sounds, smells and stories of the RMS Titanic from its building to its launching and fitting out. It continues as you move from floor to floor with Titanic’s shakedown cruise in 1912, picking up and discharging passengers in two ports and heading across the Atlantic. The experience gets more dramatic as the ship hits the iceberg, and we hear the official messages transmitted and received as well as the oral histories of surviving passengers.

Visitors to the Titanic Belfast can experience what it was like to be on the ship. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

As we explored the twists and turns of the galleries, we reached the gallery where we saw the ship sinking and the efforts of the crew and passengers to get off the ship. We were provided a number of stories of individuals on the ship including the captain, the ship’s designer and stories of first-, second- and third-class passengers. Then we saw the reactions of media and officials, the boards of inquiry and in brief detail the many movies made about the Titanic, mostly showing how they had romanticized the tragic events. Another section detailed the graveyards in places like Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many of the recovered bodies are buried.

The last part of the Titanic Experience, on a theater-sized screen, is the story of the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985 by Robert Ballard and his team. We watched their dramatic film of the two separated sections of the Titanic 12,000 feet below the surface and the debris field that trailed out behind the ship. It was this debris field that provided Ballard with the ability to locate the Titanic.

The last experience, below the giant screen, under a glass floor, is film taken from above the Titanic. You see the Titanic below as you stand on the glass floor and watch as the sunken ship passes beneath your feet.

Outside the Titanic Experience, the building itself is a dramatic creation of both the Titanic’s massive hull and the iceberg that ended its life and the lives of its many passengers and crew. Within the area covered by Titanic Belfast are the Titanic’s Dock and Pump House, the SS Nomadic — the last remaining White Star vessel, and a Discovery Tour that includes the drawing offices where Titanic was created and the slipways where she was built.

We left Belfast for our afternoon ride to Dublin, Republic of Ireland, and our next morning departure. Goodbye, Northern Ireland, sláinte!

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.