President Mary McAleese apparently wowed them in Mexico and Honduras during her visit to both nations last week. Wowed most of them. While speaking — in fluent Spanish no less — to the Mexican Senate, a couple of senators were spotted in the back row yacking into cell phones and smoking cigars while Presidente Maria extolled the virtues of Irish-Mexican relations.
Anyway, the McAleese return to the auld sod was greeted by a glowing assessment of her foreign missions to date in the Irish Times, the pages of which go a long way toward defining the success or otherwise of a presidency. McAleese has been taking stick from some since her election for not being the second coming of Mary Robinson. To her credit, she has stuck to the task of being Mary McAleese. There are those who now see virtue in that. And to think that the woman wasn’t even allowed vote for herself.
Meanwhile, the Mexican visit served to draw renewed attention to the present whereabouts of former Mexican leader Carlos Salinas. "IF" readers are aware that Salinas has been living in Ireland for several years following the collapse of his presidency. Well, it seems that the damp finally got to his bones. Word has it that Salinas has moved to the warmer climes of Cuba, but not before fathering a child on Irish soil. Who knows, but the wee scrap might grow up to be president someday. But of where, Irlanda o Mexico?
Farrells to the fore
The Farrells are gathering again. The County Longford clan is one of the most active in and out of Ireland when it comes to big family gatherings. Farrells have been toasting each other for several years now in places as far apart as Mexico City, Quebec and Longford itself.
The family takes the view that it owns Longford, in an historical sense at least. It is currently distributing a glossy brochure outlining details of an upcoming "International Farrell Clan Rally" to be held next year in the midlands county. The event is being organized "to celebrate 1,000 years of Farrells in County Longford." Irish families are tight-knit, but these Farrells sure take the biscuit.
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Anyway, the Farrells come into "IF’s" sights this week for another reason. Bill Farrell, an Irish-American member of the clan, works in the Manhattan financial world, a long way from Longford. But Bill knows where he came from and who his people are. So it was not surprising that Bill got his Irish up when he recently received a credit card offer in the mail. It was for a Visa card with a Union Jack on it — a "British Visa Card" . . . "For Those Who Cherish the Best of British Heritage."
The pitch began thus: "Dear Bill Farrell, as Americans, many of us take pride in two national heritages — the American heritage we share and the heritage of our ancestors." The blurb went on to state that his British Visa Card from Capital One bank celebrated Bill’s British heritage and pride as well as his good financial sense. The offer also came with a juicy plum at the end. After he used his card for the first time, Bill would be sent a "free flag of the United Kingdom."
Bill was laughing now, but the end of the pitch letter sent him to the floor altogether. It was signed by Capital One’s vice president, one Charles R. Carey. "I’m sure this will come as a shock to the thousands of Careys that they are British," Bill told "IF." Not to mention the shockwaves back in Longford, where 1,000 years of Farrell history have been turned on its head by a piece of plastic.
Move over, Titanic. Shackletonmania is hitting New York, where last Friday the Museum of Natural History unveiled a much anticipated exhibition of photographs and artifacts from Ernest Shackleton’s famed 1914-15 expedition to — and escape from — Antarctica. As with the spectacular resurfacing of the Titanic story a year ago, Shackletonmania is generating considerable coverage. The New York Times last Friday adorned its Weekend section front page with a huge photograph of Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, stuck in the Antarctic ice. The photo was taken by the expedition’s Irish-Aussie photographer, Frank Hurley. The exhibition features a large number of Hurley photos of the Endurance and her crew. They are considered to be masterworks carried out under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
Shackleton, the County Kildare-born explorer, is, however, the main inspiration for the exhibition. Shackleton’s family would have been described at the time of his birth as Anglo-Irish, but Shackleton himself wore his Irishness easily enough. Roland Huntford, who authored a 1985 biography of the man wrote of his subject thus: "An Irishman in England Shackleton remained for the rest of his days." Not that the days were many. Shackleton died at 47.
The story of the almost two-year ordeal of the Endurance and her 27-man crew is well known. The failed attempt to trek across the Antarctic continent, the stranding of the Endurance in the pack ice, the destruction of the ship, the lifeboat and sled-hauling trek across the ice to Elephant Island, the incredible 800-mile voyage across the southern seas to South Georgia in an open 22-foot lifeboat. Shackleton began his life in 1874 in the townland of Kilkea. He died all too young, in 1922, of a heart attack. He is buried alongside the remains of Norwegian sailors on South Georgia. Still an outsider. An Irish outsider. The exhibition runs through Oct. 11.
New twist on Oliver
Still with museums. The ever-watchful James Mullin of the New Jersey-based Irish Famine Curriculum Committee has focused his ire on an exhibition at the Museum of London entitled "Cromwell, Warts and All." The event is designed to mark the 400th anniversary of Cromwell’s arrival in the world and all that followed. The problem for Mullin is that all that follows in the exhibition doesn’t include an account of Lord Ollie’s rather bloody ramblings in Ireland during the 1640s. It’s a bit like the Great Hunger without Trevelyan.
Cromwell’s actions in Ireland have been well documented by historians for years. One account goes back almost to Trevelyan’s time. It is "The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland" by John P. Prendergast and first published in 1865. Such is the hold Cromwell has on Irish history that this tome was published anew in 1996. It is available from Trafalgar Square distributors, North Pomfret, VT 05053.