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Echoes of ’98 The year in headlines

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Compiled by Ray O’Hanlon

January

In the year that marked the 200th anniversary of the 1798 rebellion, Ireland would be divided by a border. On one side, a Northern Ireland struggling to emerge anew after years of violence, on the other, the now very emerged "Celtic Tiger." Business leaders south of the border begin the year by urging emigrants to return home and fill jobs in the booming construction industry. Albert Reynolds delivers a tiger’s growl at a New York priest critical of the former taoiseach’s emergence as grand marshal of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In Boston, protesters burn Boston Globe newspapers in a protest over a cartoon that portrayed the Irish as being drunken and lazy. The Kennedy family mourns the death of Michael Kennedy, killed in a skiing accident. He is laid to rest in a snow-covered Brookline cemetery.

Charlie Haughey’s legal and financial woes continue to mount. Ted Kennedy makes his first-ever trip to Northern Ireland. In the South, gardaí arrest a number of republicans who do not support the peace process. Both the Irish and British governments publish new ideas in an effort to boost the process. The death takes place of Irish-American activist Bernie Morris.

Loyalist groups observing cease-fires are now killing more people than they did in the mid-1980s. Former U.S. Ambassador to Britain Raymond Seitz, causes uproar with allegations in a book that the Clinton White House leaked intelligence secrets to the IRA and that U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith was sympathetic to the Provisionals.

February

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Irish miler Marcus O’Sullivan is hoping to run his 100th sub-four minute mile at the upcoming Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden. Concern mounts over President Clinton’s domestic woes and the possible adverse effects on his administration’s Irish policies. Unionists reject the latest proposals for cross-border bodies. The movie "2 by 4," a tale of Irish immigrants life in the Bronx, wins one of the top awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Albert Reynolds is installed as grand marshal.

Argument rages over the PBS documentary "The Irish in America: Long Journey Home." The British government is to set up a new tribunal to investigate Bloody Sunday. The Irish government, meanwhile, releases its new findings concerning the Widgery Tribunal — the original British legal investigation — and finds it to be "willfully flawed." Ray Flynn announces his bid for the governorship of Massachusetts.

Ireland’s rugby team loses by one point to Scotland. President Clinton says he will visit Belfast again in May as the city is on edge after two fatal shootings. Tara Circle is reportedly close to a deal for a premises in Yonkers. Protests are threatened at the Cavan Association’s 150th anniversary banquet over the possible presence of a bishop who, some charge, covered up the activities of convicted pedophile priest Fr. Brendan Smyth. The bishop, Francis McKiernan, decides not to attend.

Marcus O’Sullivan secures his 100th sub-four minute mile. The SDLP comes to the aid of Sinn Féin, under pressure at the North talks in the wake of shootings attributed to the IRA and deemed contrary of the "Mitchell Principles" on non-violence. Two bombing attacks in the North are blamed on the group calling itself the Continuity IRA. With his party facing difficulties at the talks table, Gerry Adams cancels a U.S. visit but plans one for St. Patrick’s Day. Sinn Féin ends up being expelled from the talks for two weeks. Dublin-born John Timoney is to be police chief of Philadelphia. A gay police group wants to march in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade.

March

Jamie Carr is sent to prison for the stabbing murder of Irish immigrant Francis White outside a Queens bar in 1996. Fears grow that republican splinter groups are out to wreck the North peace talks as Sinn Féin rejoins the talks. Cork native, NYPD Bomb Squad detective and founder of Project Children, Denis Mulcahy, is the Echo’s Man of the Year. Fans of the popular "Father Ted" TV series in Ireland, Britain and the U.S. are stunned by the sudden death of the show’s creator and star, comedian Dermot Morgan.

The British government decides not to extradite Roisin McAliskey to Germany. The New York parade will pay special tribute to the patriots of 1798.

The parade itself is blessed with good weather. Albert Reynolds leads the way, but many onlookers are left without the parade’s line of march after the parade committee fails to provide it to the Irish Echo. For the eighth year, members of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization protest their exclusion from the parade. Gerry Adams and Bill Clinton confer in Washington. Jean Kennedy Smith announces that she will step down as ambassador to Ireland. It is reported that the IRA’s former master bomber is now linked to the dissident 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Sonia O’Sullivan puts her Atlanta Olympic disappointments well behind her in capturing two world cross-country titles in Morocco. Mortars are launched at an RUC station in South Armagh. The attack is attributed to the Continuity IRA.

April

Sinn Féin indicates that in the event of a settlement it would sit in a new Stormont Assembly. A British Sunday newspaper reports that British military intelligence recruited a convicted torturer to become a hitman for the Ulster Defense Association. Speculation mounts as to who will succeed Jean Kennedy Smith as U.S. ambassador. The New York GAA season opens under the leadership of former Galway hurler Monty Moloney. The screen version of the Patrick McCabe novel "The Butcher Boy" opens in theaters.

With a tentative peace deal taking shape in Belfast, Unionists storm out of negotiations demanding a total rewrite of the proposal crafted by former Senator George Mitchell. But within days, and after dramatic late-night negotiations, the Good Friday accord is sealed and delivered. It is widely welcomed but concern is also expressed by some over the pending demise of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution.

Irish soccer ace Paul McGrath retires. The Ulster Unionist Party backs the Mitchell agreement and Sinn Féin calls a special ard fheis to debate it. Sen. Ted Kennedy intervenes in the campaign to secure a U.S. stamp commemorating the Great Hunger.

May

Argument rages in Irish America over the peace deal with women — Sinn Féin’s Bairbre de Brun, Bernadette Sands McKevitt of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey — all to the fore. An Irish woman runner, Catherina McKiernan, is also to the fore as winner of the London Marathon. Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten is to head an independent commission on the future of the RUC.

Irish swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin is charged with tampering with a drug test sample. As the referendum on the Good Friday agreement approaches, a Provisional IRA convention approves Sinn Féin participation in a new assembly. Ray Flynn quits the Massachusetts governor’s race and opts instead for Congress. "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" gets six Tony nominations.

Sinn Féin’s special ard fheis overwhelmingly approves the Stormont accord. The Irish Immigration Reform Movement wants 50,000 new visas for Ireland. Voters North and South give a big majority to the "Yes" vote in the Agreement referendum. Five Irish nationals are deported after INS raids in Philadelphia.

June

The GAA backs away from a divisive vote on Rule 21, which precludes members of the RUC and British army becoming members. Gerry Adams visits the U.S. and reporters repeatedly press questions about IRA arms decommissioning. "Beauty Queen of Leenane" wins four Tonys. There are signs of growing competition on the Atlantic air route as Aer Lingus and Continental go head-to-head with the summer travel season approaching.

Summer it wasn’t the day of the Guinness Fleadh in New York and the Irish Festival at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. It poured on both but the bands played on at the fleadh while the festival took a literal, and ultimately successful, raincheck.

A $100 million lawsuit is filed against author Sean McPhilemy and his book "The Committee" is a Washington, D.C. court.

President Mary McAleese makes her first official trip to the U.S. A Famine memorial is unveiled in Boston. The Irish immigrant community is stunned by the suicide of Monaghan native Liam Mason, who died penniless despite holding a construction job. His death raises new question about exploitation of Irish immigrants. Ireland’s rugby team goes down 33-0 against South Africa in Pretoria. The result of a huge brawl during the game was less clear cut.

July

Irish sports had better news as July began when Sonia O’Sullivan broke the world two-mile record at the Cork City Sports. Irish America mourned the death of Paul O’Dwyer. Tensions begin to rise in Portadown as the annual Orange Order Drumcree march looms. The new North Assembly is headed by David Trimble with the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon as his deputy. Ten Catholic churches are torched across the North. The Drumcree Orange marchers are banned from the Garvaghy Road but a march along the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast gets the go-ahead.

The world is stunned by the deaths of the three Quinn brothers after their home in Rasharkin, Co. Antrim, is firebombed. President Clinton confirms a September visit to the North. Rep. Tom Manton announces his upcoming retirement. A man is arrested in connection with the murder of the Quinn boys. The Cavan women win their fourth straight New York Gaelic football title.

Irish soccer players win the U18 European championship, thus emulating the U16s. Studies show that a growing proportion of Irish immigrants arriving in the U.S. are rooted in the North. North Secretary of State Mo Mowlam urges Irish Americans to forsake republican "splinter groups."

August

Bogside residents and Apprentice Boys in Derry reach agreement over conditions for a planned march by the latter. The U.S. Post Office approves an Irish Famine stamp. Swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin is banned for four years. She vows to appeal. The man convicted of killing Lord Mountbatten is released from prison in Dublin. Ireland’s top broadcasting personality, Gay Byrne, says he is going to retire.

The explosion sends shock waves around the globe and through the peace process. The town of Omagh, Co. Tyrone, is torn apart by a huge bomb. The initial toll is 28 dead (it will later be 29) and 200 injured. Condemnation is virtually total. The Real IRA is immediately targeted by investigators.

A week after the blast, all of Ireland comes to a standstill to remember the Omagh victims. The U.S. State Department says it will clamp down on dissident republican groups. Bernadette Sands McKevitt of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement is denied a U.S. visa.

Sonia O’Sullivan wins gold medals in 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the European Championships.

September

Only days after the Omagh bombing, President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton prepare to return to Ireland, North and South. The visit is seen as a needed and timely boost for the peace process.

The former governor of Wyoming, Mike Sullivan, is Clinton’s choice as next U.S. ambassador to Ireland. Gerry Adams declares violence to be a thing of the past. Adams is to meet with Unionist leader David Trimble. The Real IRA calls a truce. Offaly overcomes Kilkenny to capture the All-Ireland hurling title.

In an interview with the Echo, President Clinton predicts a bright future for Ireland despite the recent traumas. The Clintons are warmly received on their visit and the president finally gets to play golf in Ballybunion. British soldiers in Belfast return to barracks. The trial in the Hessy Phelan murder case is postponed to a later date. The Northern Ireland Assembly meets for its first debate. A snag over IRA arms decommissioning quickly emerges. Twelve are arrested in the Omagh bomb probe. Ray Flynn and former Rep. Brian Donnelly fail to win election in Massachusetts. The sporting month ends with Galway beating Kildare and winning the All-Ireland football title for the first time in 32 years.

October

It’s 30 years since the civil rights march in Derry that is generally seen as the starting point of the present Troubles. John Hume, who was there on the day, clashes with David Trimble over decommissioning. Irish rugby is rocked by allegations of drug taking.

Speculation is mounting that the Nobel Peace Prize might go to an individual, or individuals, connected with the North peace process. Congress gives the nod to the so-called "Walsh" transition visas which will allow individuals from Northern Ireland or the border counties of the Republic work in the U.S. for three years. The three Maze escapees in San Francisco, Pól Brennan, Kevin Barry Artt and Terence Kirby, win a court battle for a new trial. Soon after, they are released on bail.

John Hume and David Trimble share the Nobel Peace Prize. Some are angry that Trimble won and Gerry Adams was left out. Adams, meanwhile, comes to New York and celebrates his 50th birthday. Ireland beat Malta 5-0 in a European Championship qualifier, but star scorer Robbie Keane now needs knee surgery. Leitrim wins the New York GAA football title while Limerick capture the hurling crown. Irish track legend Noel Carroll dies suddenly while training for the Dublin Marathon. Always one with a surprise up his sleeve, Conor Cruise O’Brien suggests that a united Ireland might be a good deal for unionists.

November

A new book by Kerry football legend Pat Spillane is highly critical of the New York GAA. New York president Monty Moloney responds by saying that the GAA depicted in the book is now a thing of the past.

Boxer Wayne McCullough is defeated by Prince Naseem Hamed in a controversial bout in Atlantic City. Joe Doherty is released from the Maze prison as Irish-American supporters express joy and relief. Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness rules out any early decommissioning of IRA weapons. The movie version of "Dancing at Lughnasa" opens to generally positive reviews. In another round of verbal sparring, John Hume is critical of fellow Nobel laureate David Trimble over the latter’s stance on decommissioning. The Echo reports that there are still a number of IRA men on the run in the U.S. Singer Paddy Clancy is dead at 76.

The Echo marks 70 years of publishing. The paper honors John Hume and his wife, Pat, at an anniversary event held at the United Nations. Ireland’s rugby team qualifies for next year’s World Cup with a victory over Romania.

Hofstra University is to develop a Famine curriculum for New York State public schools. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is to address both houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin. The IRA denies reports that it held a special convention to deal with arms decommissioning.

December

British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks in Dublin, the first British prime minister to address both houses of the Dail, and his words are warmly received. President Clinton, the impeachment crisis growing around him, is not using the peace process as a distraction. The White House says he is presently taking a more hands-off approach as he prepares to meet North leaders who are gathering in Washington for an awards ceremony. A Dublin man, Paul Ward, is the first to receive a life sentence for the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin.

North leaders gather in Boston for awards at the Kennedy Library. David Trimble is invited but sends a video greeting instead. He is in Washington, where, a day later, he receives an Averell Harriman award along with John Hume and other party leaders who signed up to the Good Friday accord. Back in Northern Ireland, there is confusion and uproar as Trimble appears to have backed away from a decommissioning deal brokered by Tony Blair. Trimble again inflames nationalists with his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo.

Maureen O’Hara will be grand marshal of the 1999 New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Irish movies "Waking Ned Devine and "The General" are both being well received. Impeachment looms over President Clinton. Peter King, arguably the "greenest" politician on Capitol Hill, emerges as Clinton’s leading defender in the GOP. Clinton is duly impeached by the House of Representatives and Irish-American leaders call on Irish Americans to rally around the president.

IRA arms decommissioning still appears a long way off with the reported ascent to the chief-of-staff position of Brian Keenan, considered a hardliner on the issue. The year in the North does end with an agreement on cross-border bodies and the decommissioning of a few weapons by the loyalist LVF. But tensions remain high in Portadown and the Garvaghy Road area as Orange Order members rally to protest the continued ban on their march along the road.

Down south, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey gets a big Christmas bonus as he sees a £2 million tax bill whittled down to next to nothing by a Revenue Commissioners appeals officer who happens to be the brother-in-law of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

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