Robert White RFÉ 18 April 2015

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Martin Galvin (MG) interviews via telephone Professor Robert White (RW) of Indiana University about the digital Irish Studies collection at Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis. (IUPUI)  (begins time stamp ~ 40:05)

MG: And we now have with us Professor Robert White of Professor of Indiana University at Purdue. Now he’s the author of the definitive biography on Ruairí Ó Brádaigh. He also keeps or is responsible for a great Irish collection that has a number of Irish publications – Irish articles. Boston College, they talked about being a history department that was going to come to prominence and look what they did with the oral history project – let everybody down by giving those tapes up to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). Indiana University is clearly the one – the university that’s going to be known as the one with the top Irish collection. And you now are in the process of adding a very special collection – part of what can be gotten through the internet at Indiana University. And could you tell us what that is?

RW: We’re working at the moment – we’re digitising and putting up the  Irish People which is a wonderful source for an Irish-American perspective on what was happening in Ireland from the early 1970’s up through the early 2000’s. And it’s a contemporary account in the sense that it’s: If something happened in Ireland, within a week or so there was a newspaper account of it. And it’s being digitised and scanned etc and placed up on the web. You can find it if you do a Google on: ‘Irish Republican Movement Collection’ – it should pop up. The other thing to do is to say: ‘Irish Republican Movement Collection at IUPUI’.  My formal employer is: Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis or IUPUI.

But it’s part of a broader collection that includes: Fourthwrite, The Blanket, there’s a documentary that I produced called Unfinished Business – The Politics of Dissident Irish Republicans that includes interviews with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, Michael Flannery is in there, Tom McGuire, a press conference with Gerry Adams and so on.

What we’re trying to do is build a collection for scholars, students, interested parties. It all started – the Dean of our university library is a man named David Lewis who, in many ways, – he is a visionary – and he’s heavy into digitisation and he’s also into open access. This is free – available to anybody. And he and I were having a conversation about it and I mentioned: You know, I’ve got a whole bunch of newspapers – Saoirse is what it is – this Irish political party – and would you be interested in putting those up? And he said: Sure! So those go up to about 2010, I think, and we’ll add to it over time.

And then we put up the Sovereign Nation and then it kind of blossomed from there and we continued to add things. And then a man named Joe Flaherty got in touch with me and said: Hey! I have a whole bunch of issues of the Irish People. Would you be interested? Of course we’d be interested because it broadens the collection and gives us another perspective. Much of it, Fourthwrite, etc The Pensive Quill that’s coming out of Ireland and this is now Irish-America. And we’re having a blast putting it up. It’s taking much longer than we had hoped but at the same time it gives us the sense of the value of having a newspaper like that online.

MG: Professor, I was the editor, as you know, for fifteen years of the Irish People newspaper. John McDonagh was the editor for two years – he’s spoken about it a lot. Bernie O’Boyle, Brian Mór O’Boyle, he was the guest artist and he used to be a columnist – and he used to almost get me fired every year at St. Patrick’s Day ’cause he’d change the cartoons and I would have to explain to Michael Flannery and others why some of Brian’s work was up there – but Sandy Boyer was also a columnist – and I think it’s important to point out what happened.

For example, sometimes you would read in Irish newspapers or American newspapers about the day that then-candidate Bill Clinton walked into an Irish forum and answered questions – by coincidence from me on a visa for Gerry Adams or from Ray O’Hanlon or from Patrick Farley – there were three of us who had been chosen by John Deerie, the person who put on that event. And you’d sometimes think that this is something that just Clinton had nothing to do one day and he walked into a hotel and happened to take these questions and answer them and history was changed and people took credit for it afterwards.

If you read the Irish People you would be able – the following Wednesday that paper came out – you’ll see pictures of Clinton. You’ll see the pictures of people at that forum. You’ll see an account of exactly what was asked of him. Exactly what he said. More than that you’ll see editorials about the importance of that event at that time. More than that you can go back for a few months you’ll see how much work was put in – John Deerie in particular who was then was a New York state Assemblyman – he and his staff did a tremendous job begging, pleading, urging people to come out to attend those forums – to organise them – to force candidates to come out and address those forums and you’ll see all the work that led up to that. If you were involved in Irish activities – if you picketed – or marched during the hunger strike for Irish political prisoners – if you supported – and again somebody else I was talking to during the week – I expect to see him at O’Lunney’s – Pat Doherty, who was the key man – he works with the State Comptroller’s Office now – was a key man behind the McBride Principles from Harrison Goldin or through Alan Hevesi or through Liz Holtzman or through the State Comptroller, DiNapoli now, or through others that I’m sure I’ve missed.

And we were talking about how that slowly progressed – people like Sal Albanese or Harrison Goldin and John Deerie on the state level – were heavily involved. You’ll see photographs, articles – urging people to come to the various forums. You’ll see the contributions and quotes from the speeches that were made by Irish-Americans which led to the McBride Principles being adopted in state after state which led getting them to the national agenda where they would be addressed by candidates. So if you really want to understand this period – if you really want to understand the American contribution – and you’ll also, as the Professor mentioned – you’ll have interviews from Gerry Adams that he gave to An Phoblacht. You’ll have quotes from Gerry Adams – other leading Republicans.

At the time of events – there were attacks in Ireland or there were armed incidents in Ireland – you’ll have contemporary – that week – what the Irish in Ireland said about it. You’ll have contemporary – what Sinn Féin was saying at various points in time about the hunger strike or about the armed struggle or about other events through that period. If you want to really understand Irish History this is a place to go!

So Professor, I really welcome what you’re doing at Indiana University. There’s a couple of people I want to thank: Joe Flaherty is the person who – I made a mistake – I said donated the collection to you on the phone. He lent you the collection which is being digitised. I know NYU is also going to give you a chance to see some of the copies that they have. I think Jack O’Brien donated some copies to them – they’ll add to collection so you can put it up on the website. I know there’s people with the the Irish-American Appeal who want to spend money to publicise this, who think it’s a really important collection to see. And I again, want to commend you, Indiana University and Purdue.

If you did anything during that period, look there – there’s a number of years which are up right now. There’s a number of years which you can go forward if you want to study that period – look at it – go to it. You can see if something happened on Sunday or Monday you can see an article on Wednesday – you’ll see an editorial explaining why that’s important. Okay, so what else is up in the collection, Professor White, that people are going to now see?

RW: Like I mentioned, there’s Unfinished Business, which is a documentary that I produced. It came out in 2012. It’s available online – open access – and it has interviews with Ruarí Ó Brádaigh, Des Dalton is in there, Josephine Hayden, Gerry Adams’ press conference that was in July of ’95 just not quite a year into the peace process and he’s talking about the meetings they were having with the Secretary of State, for example, about decommissioning so it’s an interesting interview in of itself given the context: 1995 – when at that point the Provos were saying they would never decommission.

The Blanket – we just added an index to The Blanket. The people who contributed to that, I mean: Anthony McIntyre, Tommy Gorman, Brendan Hughes, Carrie Twomey – it’s a very interesting perspective, critique if you will, of the peace process. Fourthwrite, which was edited by Tommy McKearney, and included several others – the Irish People we’ve mentioned. There’s a link to The Pensive Quill, Saoirse, the Sovereign Nation and there are other things I hope to, over time, we will add to the collection. The goal at the moment is to get a complete run of the Irish People which hopefully we can do. You mentioned the conversations we started to have with others. What I have in my office – some of it’s been loaned by Joe Flaherty – others are hard copies that were donated and sent to me – Jack O’Brien. We want to end up with the full run.

I think you’re right – if you want to chart the course of Irish Republicanism in the United States or Irish-American perspectives on Irish Republicans things or just Ireland – Irish politics in general – this is going to be a really neat resource for people in Irish Studies programmes, students, scholars or just interested people. You know, what happened in Ireland from an Irish-American perspective in 1990 or 1980? You talked about the hunger strikes which had transformed Irish politics and influenced people throughout the world but certainly Irish-America as well.

MG: I happened just to look at the issue in 1980 just to see how many issues were on. And one of the things that struck me: People talk about the role of Ted Kennedy, for example. There’s an editorial and it was written right after the end of the first hunger strike which we hoped had settled everything. And unfortunately, the British acted in the fashion that they did and it became necessary for Bobby Sands and nine others to die – all of their names are worthy of mention – they’re great Irish patriots – on hunger strike the following year. But one of the things there is how Kennedy and some of the other Irish-American politicians, then known as The Four Horsemen, went to Mass on Saint Patrick’s Day for the hunger strikers after the first hunger strike ended. And there is an editorial about how if only they had come out during the hunger strike it might have been enough to end it without any more suffering – without the suffering that was happening.

And again, that was an editorial written right at the end of the first hunger strike. It was something that was written before anyone realised that Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes and Ray McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara and the others would be beginning a hunger strike the next year and would die on hunger strike. So it’s a particularly poignant presentation of Irish-American history, of events. And it’s contemporary! It’s not something which anybody wrote afterwards or looked at hindsight and wrote afterwards.

There’s also lessons on Irish History there. There’s Irish lessons. There are actually columns: ‘Write to the Prisoners’ – some of which led to some of the deportee cases because people wrote to the prisoners, ended up getting married – coming to the United States. If you want to study Irish History or – there are people who have mentioned to me – a close friend of mine – I’m not going to mention his name – mentioned that his family didn’t appreciate all that he did and he was looking for a particular video – this is something you can look – about people going on trial – about people being prisoners – about people participating in protests.

If you want your family to know what you did or see your picture or how you looked at that time and see a contemporary record – this is something – if you have access to the internet and everybody does – you can hit it up – go to the particular issues – through Professor White – through Indiana University and you’ll be able to see – if it happened – if it was related to the Irish struggle and Irish-American activity during these years – you’ll be able to see it. It was covered in the Irish People, the voice of Irish Republicanism in America, and you’ll be able to read about it and see what was said – not from the coloured vantage point of years later but from the vantage point – the contemporary vantage point – the unvarnished vantage point – of that week. If it happened on Sunday or Monday it would be written about on Monday and it would be in the Irish People on Wednesday.

RW: I’ll tell you – what you’re describing – I very much appreciate all that you all did to put the paper together and it’s informed some of my own scholarship. For example, if you recall when Owen Carron and Danny Morrison were arrested trying to enter the United States which, in part, stems from when Owen Carron was denied a visa after he was just elected. And I was writing something about that period and I went and looked at the Irish People and indeed there’s this picture/photograph of Owen Carron on the front page: ‘Owen Carron Denied Visa’ and an accompanying article – and it’s really helpful to be able to do something like that.

MG: And you’d have the fact that Paisley and a delegation were coming out at the same time – Ian Paisley was stopped – the others were all let in. I actually went to Washington – got signatures about Owen Carron and Danny Morrison – they were arrested – the people in Buffalo did a great job supporting them and defending them. And actually, funny enough, I happened to sit on a plane – Peter Robinson was on it – he was there with a number of other Unionists. I got on the plane coming back to New York and I heard them talking about the hotel that they were going to go to. And at that stage we were able to call ahead – get a protest for that night – get a permit for that night and when they arrived at their hotel in New York City and came out they found that there were hundreds of people across the street protesting them and they couldn’t understand how Irish-Americans could do that protest and rally.

So if you want to see that event – if you want to see all those events – you want to read about what you did for the Irish struggle – have family members read about it – if you want to study what really happened – not from people claiming credit for things that they never did – but what was happening at that time – written about at that time – unvarnished at that time. Go to Professor White’s collection – just tell us the website again where you can find it.

RW: Well, if you just do a Google on: ‘Irish Republican Movement Collection’ it should pop up. Or you can add: ‘Irish Republican Movement Collection IUPUI’ and it will pop up. It’s part of the digital collection of Indiana University-Purdue University – our university library. We have a centre for digital scholarship; it’s part of that as well. And if I can get my own plug in: Our university library is outstanding and we’re doing cutting edge stuff. And this all stems from people there who are very committed to open access and very committed to digitisation and they’re just very easy to work with and I appreciate them. And we’re talking about: Jenny Johnson, Kristi Palmer and Dean David Lewis.

MG: Alright. We’re going to be promoting this. We want this collection to be known and studied. That everybody can have the advantage of going there – seeing exactly – you know people who thought that there were just collections at pubs in New York and you know, they’ll see photographs of testimonial dinners where many of the people who are donors now were donors back then and/or might have attended a collection by Brendan Hughes or other collections that went on. They’ll see exactly how much political action, how much fund raising for prisoners, how much work went on in the United States at that time those people who need to read the Irish People to see that. So I want to thank you, Professor White. We’ll be working with you to promote that. I think this is a valuable collection and people should know about it and see it. (ends time stamp ~ 57:18)