Saturday, April 23, 2016

Omaha celebrates the Irish who built their city at 1916 commemorations By Michael Kelly

Each year, folks celebrate the coming of spring with a festive, beer-drinking, green-wearing day in which “everyone is Irish.” This weekend, though, the actual Irish of Omaha — some of whose ancestors helped build the city from its start — commemorate a more somber event. It’s the centennial of the 1916 “Easter Rising” insurrection that was crushed at first but eventually led to the Republic of Ireland’s independence from British rule. Rather than another St. Patrick’s Day, said Douglas County Commissioner James Cavanaugh, it will be more like an Irish “Fourth of July.” “No fireworks,” he said, “but lots of music, poetry and drama, and a great movie.” Ceremony, too. After a noon Mass on Saturday at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church, 19th and Dodge Streets, celebrated by Monsignor James Gilg, attendees will walk three blocks to the Douglas County Courthouse Plaza. Among the speakers will be Larry Bradley, president of the local Father Flanagan Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Last month he attended the centennial celebration in Dublin. “That was historic, magical and exciting,” said Bradley, an adjunct professor of geography and geology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “It sent chills down my spine.” Ireland decided to mark the centennial on Easter because the “rising” happened on that holiday. But the actual date was April 24, 1916, and in many U.S. cities, people of Irish ancestry will celebrate this weekend. In the American melting pot, Bradley is like a lot of us — a mixture. He carries an Irish surname, but his ancestry is half-Mexican. Cavanaugh, of full-blooded Irish ancestry, said the Irish diaspora in America had a huge impact on the Republic of Ireland’s independence, which was won in 1922. “The war of independence,” he said, “was largely aided, abetted, supported and financed by the Irish in America.” Omaha developed through the efforts of many ethnicities and nationalities. As the 2000 book “E Pluribus Omaha” says, new arrivals enriched the city as a whole. Says the book by Harry Otis and Donald Erickson: “The newcomer, usually with nothing other than his language, religion, physical brawn and a desire to be free somehow adds a new tint to the social fabric — an indefinable hue that enhances, however slightly, the portrait of the city.” For immigrants from the Emerald Isle, the hue was green — and that included the ability to make money and prosper. After the ceremony in the plaza Saturday between the courthouse and the City-County Building, the public is invited to Castle Barrett at 43rd and Leavenworth Street with “traditional Irish music” by the group Dicey Riley until 5 p.m. At 11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Joslyn Art Museum, a centennial program will be presented by the Irish American Cultural Institute, the Omaha Irish Cultural Center, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Nebraska Humanities Council and the Brigit St. Brigit Theater. The program will include the theater’s one-act presentation of “Rising” and a reading of the proclamation of independence at four minutes past noon, matching the time it occurred in Dublin a century earlier. That will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Lisabeth Buchelt, associate professor of medieval British and Irish literature and culture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; Barry Murphy, professor emeritus at Creighton University; and Cavanaugh. Five years ago, Queen Elizabeth was welcomed to the Republic of Ireland, where she spoke about improved relations. It was the first time a British monarch had visited in 100 years. This weekend, Omahans and other Americans of Irish descent will observe another centennial. Said the Hibernians’ Bradley: “It’s a time of solemnity, commemoration and celebration.” Irish Central