Compiled by Ray O’Hanlon
The year that would change America began with the Northern Ireland peace process stalled. In a New Year’s message, the IRA blamed British Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson for the lack of progress in the peace process and urged direct intervention by British Prime Minster Tony Blair. Decommissioning, argued the IRA, was less important than the fact that its guns were silent. Despite the first signs of an economic slowdown, Irish exports to the U.S. reach record levels.
In his final days in office, President Clinton urged the people of Northern Ireland to solve their problems through politics. Undocumented Irish immigrants applied in large numbers for a chance at legality under the temporarily restored immigration provision 245i.
As plans advanced for a Great Hunger memorial in Westchester County, train commuters get an idea of the project by means of posters at train stations north of New York City. Liz Carroll was the Echo’s traditional musician of the year. The GAA community in San Francisco was saddened by the loss of Antrim footballer Barry Neeson, who died after being swept out to sea. The Munster rugby team reached the European Cup quarterfinal.
President Clinton, whose intervention in Ireland was unprecedented in U.S. history, left office. His successor, George W. Bush, had previously indicated that Ireland would remain a foreign policy priority but one to be handled by the State Department, not the White House. New York GAA fans were angry over a decision by the Roscommon football team not to play a game at Gaelic Park. A row over the grand marshal’s pro-choice views on abortion threatened the upcoming Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
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The embattled Peter Mandelson was replaced as Northern secretary by Dr. John Reid, a Scottish Catholic. Munster ruggers battled their way into the European Cup semifinals with a win over the French side Biarritz.
Fine Gael leader John Bruton was ousted by opponents within his party. Ireland’s John Carroll never came close and finished a disappointing third in the featured Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden. SDLP leader John Hume warned that increasing loyalist violence was intended to provoke the IRA to break its cease-fire.
Was the party over? The Bush White House seemed to think so, given that it had no plans for a St. Patrick’s Day party at the executive mansion. Corkman and film producer Jerome O’Connor sued Hollywood titan Steven Spielberg, alleging that the movie “An Everlasting Piece” has been dumped at the box office by Spielberg’s Dreamworks company.
Ulster Unionist Party leader and First Minister David Trimble visited Washington amid speculation that the Good Friday agreement might be reviewed. An expected showdown between Ancient Order of Hibernians leaders and New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade leaders over how the parade was being run did not take place.
Ireland’s rugby team followed an opening Six Nations victory over Italy with a stunning triumph over perennial favorites France. But rugby and just about every other Irish sport was about to get a rude awakening as foot-and-mouth disease toppled fixtures on both sides of the Irish Sea. U2 scooped three Grammys.
With controversy swirling around the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Echo began to get around the parade committee’s refusal to supply the paper with the line of march by asking the marching organizations to individually send in their marching details. Foot-and-mouth disease led to the cancellation of virtually all St. Patrick’s parades in Ireland, including the main one in Dublin. In New York, two controversial marches, the Staten Island parade and the inclusive parade in Queens, passed off without serious incident, though a number of people boycotted the former event.
Massachusetts businessman Richard Egan emerged as the Bush administration’s choice as new ambassador to Ireland. The 240th consecutive New York Parade stepped out with labor leader Ed Malloy as grand marshal. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met President Bush at the White House, where there was a party after all. Northern Ireland peace was in the U.S. interest, Bush said. Former taoiseach Charles Haughey was reported to be ailing. The Irish soccer team beat Cyprus 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
Fears for the Irish tourism industry grew as the foot-and-mouth outbreak showed no signs of abating. In the U.S., Gaelic Games got under way for the new season in several cities. After a couple of false starts, the Famine-era sailing ship Jeanie Johnston finally looked like it might put to sea in a voyage from Ireland to the U.S. and Canada. In the end, though, plagued by technical problems and cost overruns, it never did. A number of Irish websites began to crash and burn amid the general dot.com bust. Pressure mounted on dissident republican groups, with the emergence of a federal informer in Chicago named David Rupert. Munster crashed out of the European rugby cup after a controversial decision that disallowed an apparent late-in-the-game try.
Immigration provision 245i expired on April 30 despite an effort to extend it. Immigrant groups argued that the four-month extension had not been enough to process all applicants for green cards.
After months of argument and stalemate, the Ancient Order of Hibernians formally sundered its ties with the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Many in Ireland and around the world marked the 20th anniversary of the H-Block hunger strikes and the deaths of 10 men led by Bobby Sands. Mayo footballers captured the National League title. Dr. Richard Haass faced close questioning in Congress on his way to becoming the Bush administration’s special envoy to Northern Ireland. David Trimble threatened to quit as North first minister if the IRA did not start disarming. New York hurlers claimed “complete robbery” after going down to Down in an historic Ulster Championship clash at Gaelic Park. A row broke out in Philadelphia over plans by the city’s Irish immigration center to honor actor Martin Sheen, a supporter of calls for a new trial for death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal, convicted of murdering Irish-American police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982. As foot-and-mouth fears faded, Ireland finally celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. New York footballers were beaten in Connaught clash against Roscommon. The U.S. designated the Real IRA as an active terrorist group. Veteran Massachusetts Rep. Joe Moakley died of leukemia.
A general election loomed in Northern Ireland. The Republic’s soccer team managed to salvage a draw against Portugal at Lansdowne Road in a World Cup qualifier. Days later, the Irish team beat Estonia 2-0. Sinn FTin made strong gains in the Northern Ireland portion of the British General Election, but so did the Rev. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party. David Trimble’s UUP took a battering. In a shock outcome, voters in the Republic rejected the Nice EU treaty despite the government urging a yes vote. New York parade grand marshal Ed Malloy denied allegations in the Village Voice newspaper concerning his alleged association with an ex-Playboy bunny accused of financial impropriety in connection with a planned Catholic museum in the city. New York mourned the death of three Irish-American firefighters killed in a Queens blaze on Father’s Day. The long anticipated Great Hunger Memorial was unveiled in Westchester County to rave reviews. A threat by David Trimble to quit as first minister neared its deadline.
Trimble did resign, a move that threw the North political situation into disarray. A public TV station in Boston saw nothing funny in the Irish comedy series “Fr. Ted” and decided not to run the show. The North marching season was at its peak. Drumcree, however, passed without serious incident. Many U.S. newspaper editorials took the same view that the IRA had to begin immediate decommissioning and that Sinn FTin was at least partly to blame if disarming did not start.
Sen. Edward Kennedy expressed his doubts over the Bush administration’s pick for ambassador to Ireland, Richard Egan. Egan would be eventually confirmed. There were signs in Washington that an effort would be made in Congress to bestow posthumous U.S. citizenship to more than 20 Irishmen who were killed fighting in U.S. uniforms in the Korean War. In New York, the Kerry women’s GAA team beat Donegal in the Connaughton Cup final.
Loyalist violence escalated in the North. Dancing m’stro Michael Flatley announced his retirement. Peace hopes in the North rose as the IRA announced a “method for disarming.” Bill Flynn, president of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Corporation, accused parade committee members of presiding over a financial mess and called for the resignation of parade executive secretary Jim Barker. North peace hopes slumped as the IRA withdrew its arms offer in response to a unionist rebuff. Three men with Irish republican connections were arrested in Colombia and accused of aiding the FARC rebels. Bill Flynn quit in frustration over the St. Patrick’s Day Parade impasse. He accused parade leaders of being “rotten.” Sinn FTin became the North’s most significant holdout party with regard to police reform after the SDLP backed a plan for changes in the RUC. The Mayo women stunned multiple-champs Cavan to take the New York GAA football title. A rift emerged in the committee behind the Westchester Great Hunger Memorial on the issue of who controlled surplus funds. The AOH signaled its intention to secure the permit for the 2002 New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Loyalist fury in North Belfast turned on young girls walking to school. Chicago’s Wolfe Tones won the North American Board championship in San Francisco; Boston’s Galway side won the hurling crown while a local team, Fog City Harps, captured the women’s football trophy. The Irish Soccer team beat Holland 1-0 and the World Cup finals now really beckoned.
September was now to go down in the history books following the terrorist attacks on the 11th. Within hours of the attacks, it appeared certain that hundreds of Irish and Irish Americans were dead. The Manhattan-based Echo hit the streets a day later than usual with the front page headline “Day of Terror.” Three days after the attack, Ireland closed down for a day of national mourning. In what now passed for the normal world, Tipperary won the All-Ireland hurling title.
In the days after the attack, Irish America braced itself for a seemingly endless list of missing presumed dead. The Irish Echo set up an emergency aid drive called the Emerald Fund. Fr. Mychal Judge, the chaplain to the FDNY who died at the World Trade Center, was laid to rest with full honors. Almost lost in the flow of horrific news from America, John Hume announced that he would step down from the leadership of the SDLP.
Sport again served to distract, if not entirely lift, the so many battered spirits as Galway won the All-Ireland football title. The Irish rugby team lost to Scotland in the revived Six Nations championship, which had been in hiatus due to foot and mouth.
Northern Ireland journalist Martin O’Hagan was gunned down by loyalists near his home in Lurgan, Co. Armagh. Ireland’s foreign minister, Brian Cowen, pledged Irish support for the U.S. in aftermath of 9/11 during a visit to New York. Cowen’s included a stop at the place now known as Ground Zero.” As the war in Afghanistan got under way, Ireland was occupying the presidency of the United Nations Security Council for a one-month period.
In Ireland, hopes again were pinned on an IRA move toward decommissioning. New York footballers almost upset All-Ireland champs Galway in an extra-time thriller at Gaelic Park. Limerick won the New York hurling title. The Irish government presided over the reburial of dead republican veterans from the War of Independence. Friends of Fr. Mychal Judge gathered in Manhattan for a month’s mind remembrance. Sinn FTin closed its Washington, D.C., office and relocated to Wall Street in lower Manhattan.
In a historic move, the IRA began the process of verifiable decommissioning by putting two arms dumps beyond use. Aer Lingus faced potential closure as the economic slump and the affects of 9/11 combined to drastically reduce passenger bookings. Irish ruggers stunned favorites England in a Six Nations game in Dublin. Ireland finished runners-up in the championship. Donegal won the New York GAA football title for the second year running.
David Trimble once again became the North’s first minister. The SDLP’s Mark Durkan was elected deputy first minister. Scuffles broke out between politicians in the front hall of Stormont Castle after the vote. Gerry Adams came to New York and drew a big crowd at the annual Sinn FTin fund-raising dinner. Money collected was donated to 9/11 relief.
In a chilling replay of the terror of 9/11, a fully loaded passenger jet crashed into the heavily Irish neighborhood of Belle Harbor in Rockaway, Queens. However, investigators quickly leaned toward an accidental cause for the crash as opposed to one instigated by terrorists. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visited Ground Zero. Former top cop Ray Kelly was named as incoming New York City police commissioner under mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg. John Hume formally passed on the SDLP leadership to Mark Durkan. Ireland won its first World Cup soccer playoff leg against Iran. Iran won the second leg, but Ireland won 2-1 overall and was on the way to the 2002 finals in Korea and Japan. The Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens marked 70 years on the go. Loyalists ended protests in Belfast aimed at the young girls of Holy Cross primary school. Fr. Christopher Keenan became the new FDNY Catholic chaplain, filling the void left by the death of his fellow Franciscan, Fr. Mychal Judge. A bill in Congress that would award U.S. citizenship to Irishmen killed in the Korean War began to gather significant bipartisan support.
The Irish soccer team was pleased with the composition of its group in the World Cup finals first round. David Trimble survived yet another assault on his leadership of the UUP. The upmarket World of Hibernia magazine announced that it was ceasing publication and putting itself on the block. A leaked report into the 1998 Omagh bombing accused the former RUC Special Branch of ignoring warnings of the attack. Dublin native John Timoney resigned as Philadelphia’s police commissioner and announced that he would be returning to New York to work in the private sector. Irish-American groups expressed unease at the decision by the Bush administration to resume training links between the FBI and the RUC’s successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Some Irish Americans were also angered by the visit of Gerry Adams to Cuba and his meeting with Fidel Castro. With the arrival of Christmas, people all across the country gave thanks for life’s good things, but the holiday was also a time to remember the thousands of 9/11 victims and the families still mourning their lost loved ones.
It was announced that the Irish Echo, heading into its 74th year of publication, would be sold by the Grimes family of New York to Dublin businessman Sean Finlay in the new year.