Friday, February 10, 2006

U2 Bags Grammies, Ferry Tragedy Recalls N.Y.'s 2nd Blackest Day, Museum to Explore Irish Tenement Life, Montreal Siamsa

On Feb. 10, 1844, Daniel O'Connell, Ireland's "Catholic Emancipator," was convicted of conspiracy, fined and sentenced to 12 months in prison by British authorities. O'Connell's participation in mass meetings demanding repeal of Ireland's Laws discriminating against Catholics led to his arrest and sentence, despite his continued assertions of loyalty to the British monarchy. Read more about O'Connell in Catholic Encyclopedia and find more key dates in the history of the Irish on WGT's Dates Page.

SIAMSA IN LA BELLE MONTREAL: Montreal's Siamsa School of Irish Music is holding its first Ceili of the year Saturday, 8 p.m. to midnight, at NDG Legion, 5455 de Maisonneuve West (at the corner Addington). Admission is $8. Caller is Bill White, with music provided by the Siamsa Ceili Band. For info, call (514) 483-6262 or (514) 932-0135, e-mail, or visit For more history and heritage events worldwide, visit WGT's Events Listings.

WGT'S Culture Editor, Patricia Jameson-Sammartano, reports:

U2 COPS MORE GRAMMIES, 'MAKING THE IRISH AMERICAN' EN ROUTE, MUSEUM TO EXPLORE IRISH EXPERIENCE: Last Saturday, the Irish American Heritage and Culture Committee of the New York City Department of Education held its annual Educators’ Seminar at the American Irish Historical Society in Manhattan.

The program included a slide presentation and lecture by David Favolaro of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. In fall 2006, the museum will present "The Moore Family of 97 Orchard Street – An Irish Family in New York." The Moores were an Irish working class family who lived in various locations in lower Manhattan between 1863 and 1930. They lived at 97 Orchard Street, and their apartment is being restored to build the narrative of their family history. Through the story of one family, the Tenement Museum aims to narrate the Irish experience in New York in the second half of the 19th Century, focusing on the death of a young child, and the issues of public health and infant mortality. Analysis of the topics includes use of genealogical records, city directories, baptismal records and censuses. This will be a unique exhibition, and one which we eagerly anticipate.

In photo above, Irish Heritage and Culture Week Committee Chairwoman Doris Meyer, left, is seen with NYU professor Joseph Lee to her right. Photo by Patricia Jameson-Sammartano

J. Joseph Lee, director of New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House, followed Favolaro with a discussion on the Irish working class in New York. Lee spoke of the diaspora resulting from The Great Famine, and of how that generation became part of the greatest savings epoch for the New York Irish, as chronicled by the Emigrant Savings Bank records of the 1850s and 60s. He also discussed the importance of the role of women in the family, as those who kept the family together while the husbands went out and worked to bring home a salary.

Below, library consultant Judith McGowan. Photo by Patricia Jameson-Sammartano

Lee is co-editor with fellow NYU professor Marion R. Casey, also of Ireland House, of the newly printed "Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States." The book, a compilation of 29 essays on Irish immigrants' impact on the United States, is from NYU Press. Ireland House will host the book's launch March 9.

Also speaking Saturday was library consultant Judith McGowan, who distributed her annotated bibliography of children's’ literature relating to the Irish.

The event was attended by educators from New York City, and is the annual kickoff to a series of events held around St. Patrick’s Day; it will also encompass art and oratory contests for city school children, a reception at the Irish Consulate, an annual event held by the United Federation of Teachers, and culminates with a ceremony at City Hall's Council Chambers honoring winners of the various contests and honorees selected by the committee. This year’s ceremony takes place Friday, April 7th.

Also of note this week, the newest addition on the Irish-American weekly newspaper scene, The Irish Examiner, has a cover article on flautist James Galway.

At the Grammy Awards on Wednesday, the Irish rock group U2 carried away five of the coveted statuettes, for best album of the year (“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”), Song of the Year (“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”), Best Rock Album, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal, Best Rock Song (“City of Blinding Lights”), and a Songwriter’s award for “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.” In accepting the award for best album, Bono paid tribute to his late father and rapper Kanye West, and U2 guitarist The Edge (David Evans) paid tribute to the band’s fans. The band also performed “Vertigo” and a very moving “One,” with Mary J. Blige. The Edge performed “Yes We Can” and, in tribute to Wilson Pickett, “In the Midnight Hour.” This brings the band’s total number of Grammys to 20, which makes them one of the top 10 Grammy Award winners of all times.

West, accepting for best rap album, thanked the Irish group for their influence on his music. Now that’s Irish soul! (Read more about Irish rock and rollers in WGT's Archives.) -- PJS

EGYPTIAN FERRY TRAGEDY RECALLS NEW YORK DISASTER: The fate a week ago of the Egyptian ferry Salam Boccaccio 98, which sank in the Red Sea 64 miles off the coast, eerily recalls that of the ferry General Slocum, which in 1904 also tried to make land before a fire consumed it.

There seem a number of similarities between the disasters. These include number of casualties: 1,021 of estimated 1,300 passengers in the case of the Slocum; 1,012 of the 1,400 on board the Salam Boccaccio 98. Holy Cross College-based historian Edward T. O'Donnell ("1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish-American History") provides a gripping account of the Slocum disaster in his landmark 2003 book, "Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum," as well as a much briefer narrative on his website. These provide the details presented here.

Below, the front page of The (New York) World, June 15, 1904. National Archives (US) Photo

The 264-foot-long Slocum was a once majestic, but still impressive, passenger ferry plying the waters around Manhattan and western Long Island. On June 15, 1904, the Slocum set off from a lower Manhattan berth with its passengers, primarily woman and children from the Lower East Side neighborhood then known as Kleindeutchland, "Little Germany." The boat was heading for Locust Grove, one of a number of seaside resorts on Long Island where city dwellers could the escape the claustrophobia of the city's teeming tenements.

As well, the crews in both cases seem to offer striking poses of criminal indifference when confronted with burgeoning fires on-board. In both vessels, some have suggested, the ships' haste to strike land fed the flames that led to the immense loss of life. On both the Salam Boccaccio and the Slocum, more than 1,000 died despite the presence of a substantial number of lifeboats. Passengers accused the crew of the Egyptian vessel of doing nothing to help lower lifeboats, while the Slocum's boats were wired immovably to the ferry's decks.

The Egyptian captain's decision to push forward to Egypt rather than return to the embarkation point in Dubah, Saudi Arabia, recalls the decision by Slocum captain William Van Schaick to travel on rather than heed passengers' and bystanders' calls to dock along the city's industrialized waterfront.

"The story of the General Slocum made headlines across the nation and around the globe," writes O'Donnell in his website narrative. Van Schaick was later convicted of criminal negligence and manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in New York's Sing Sing prison in the incident. He served three years before receiving a pardon from President William H. Taft.

The Egyptian captain may face a similar fate. "Those who are responsible will not escape without punishment," Egyptian government spokesman Suleiman Awad quoted President Hosni Mubarak as saying. "There is no one in Egypt who is above law or questioning, and as an Egyptian, I am angry and sad for what happened."

While the Slocum catastrophe primarily impacted New York's German community, as befits an incident set in New York in the early 20th century, Irish New Yorkers are sprinkled throughout O'Donnell's narrative. These include 11-year-old Catherine Gallagher, a passenger on the ill-fated boat; boat's crewmates Flanagan, O'Neill and Michael McGrann; and, among the many rescuers, NYPD Officer James Collins and 17-year-old Mary McCann, who was only a month in the United States and hospitalized with scarlet fever when she sprang into action.

The Slocum inferno was, by the way, until Sept. 11, the city's greatest disaster. --Ger

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: your comments on the Slocum-- what about the "Portland", sank off Boston/Cape Cod around 1900.