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Islands In The Stream
After a recent tour of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland I was made more aware of the things
that we have in common and I would like to share some observations.
We are no doubt aware that many Irish immigrated to our shores bringing their distinct language, customs,
and culture. Irish music on George Street would not be much different from that played in a pub in Dublin. Our Tour Guide said she had had a group from Newfoundland and remarked "they were more Irish than we are."
Ireland consisting of 84,431 square Kilometers with a population of 5.5 Million is the closest point
in Europe to North America. Newfoundland incudes 109,000 Square Kilometers with a population
of less than half a million and is the closest point in North America to Europe.
Both are affected by the Gulf Stream, a strong, fast moving, warm ocean current that originates in the
Gulf of Mexico and flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In South Eastern Newfoundland it meets the cold
Labrador Current from the arctic which produces fog and one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.
The North Atlantic Drift, The North Eastern section of the Gulf Stream influences the climate of Ireland. It's
less severe than the climate in Newfoundland. Ireland has a Temperate Maritime climate with very little difference in Summer and Winter conditions. The warm prevailing winds from the South West bring frequent
precipitation accounting for the many shades of green in Ireland.
The Titanic was built in Belfast in Northern Ireland where there is quite an exhibition. I don't recall hearing
nor seeing any Newfoundland connection there. Reportedly, though, Cape Race received messages from the liner as celebrities aboard clamored to be the first to send word to the United States via Newfoundland. After
strikeing the iceberg the Titanic sent out distress signals which were received by Cape Race.
Just off the Dingle Peninsula, we were told about Blasket Islands which were abandoned in 1953. They had declined as a result of emigration of its young people and was cut off from communication and emergency
services. Some of the evacuees went to Springfield, Massachusetts. This story resonates with Newfoundlanders; the Government Resettlement Program in the 50's and 60's resulted in the abandonment of some of our off shore islands and coves. Celebrations were held in 2016 in Arnold's Cove marking the 50th Anniversary for those who resettled from their homes in Placentia Bay.
Touring the Ring of Kerry our Guide told about the transatlantic telegraph cable laid from Valentia Island
in western Ireland to St. John's, Newfoundland. At our next stop, I told her it was actually at Heart's Content
the cable landed. They had just had big celebrations this past July for the one hundred fiftieth Anniversary.
Another comment really hit a chord, England suspended the Irish Parliament and failed to live up to their
promise to restore it. If this is indeed accurate, then we were not the only democracy in the Western World
to surrender our self- government and the promise to reinstate it was never fulfilled. This happened in 1933,
based on a report done by some Lord from Great Britain, and up until 1949, we were governed by a Commission, of which three of the six were Englishmen as well an English Governor, appointed by the English Parliament.
Speaking of freedom and democracy for which, ostensibly, our young men sacrificed their lives, it was not
displayed during Commission Government and certainly not during post World War Two Newfoundland politics. Newfoundland was Britain's problem child to be dealt with after the War and Britain had bigger problems closer to home. Later evidence suggests that England and Canada had some plot or scheme to send Newfoundland up the St. Lawrence.
The National Convention was a guise of democracy and lacked legitimacy. The agenda was controlled by
outside forces. Placing Confederation with Canada on the ballot was defeated by 29 to 16, but the powers
that be placed it there anyway. The Commission refused to sanction the resolution providing that a delegation be sent to the United States. The third Chairman was not even a member of the Convention . The London visit was fruitless as expected; delegates were baffled by the intrigue and maneuvering in the language of Dominions Office officials. The Governor had undercut their visit by going to London two days in advance to brief the politicians and the press. The delegation to Ottawa was treated so well they did not want to come home. The Convention was stalled while they were away from June 16 to mid -October, 1947. But who were they speaking for or representing? If we had our own government restored we would have been in a better bargaining position.
If democracy is rule by the people, allowing extensive representation, inclusiveness of many people and views, checking unaccountable power and manipulation by the few; free, transparent, and fair elections then
Newfoundland society in the 1940's fell far short. Propaganda spewed the airwaves attacking the Newfoundlander's character and lowering his self- image by constantly harping on how poor we were. We must have been an early 3rd world country; we caused the Bank Crash in 1929 and were the only ones to go through a world - wide Depression. Newfoundlanders were better equipped than many areas to surmount this economic disaster, since most owned their own homes, were self- sufficient having their own fish, livestock, and crops. Many people in larger cities wound up on the sidewalk, along with their furniture, because they couldnâï¿½ï¿½t pay their rent.
In actual fact, the Newfoundland economy was thriving during the 1940âï¿½ï¿½s thanks to the 2nd World War but mainly to the American Friendly Invasion. The Americans constructed three major bases here at St. John's,
Argentia, and Stephenville, (they wanted Gander Airport, but apparently Canada objected) spending in excess of $100,000,000. This provided good paying jobs to 20,000 Newfoundlanders. It was probably the first time many of them saw a paycheck. Apparently the Brits were so embarrassed by the wages paid they requested the Americans to scale back. The Americans countered by reclassifying the labourers as carpenters to maintain the higher pay scale. We were so poor we had paid off our war debt, gave Britain an interest free loan, and had forty million dollars in the Bank in 1949, and we had no taxes.
After two less than transparent referendums the desired results were achieved by a less than fifty two percent margin. When the Prime Minister of Canada at the time questioned the legitimacy after such a narrow
majority, one of his Ministers reminded him of his narrow victories in some of his general elections. But there is a slight difference in such elections from a country's citizens deciding its destiny and surrendering
its independence. It is rather ironic that a dozen or so families in a Newfoundland community must get ninety percent majority in order to relocate.
The troubles in Ireland are not about religion; the history of Ireland is that of English subjugation of the people of Ireland and Irish resistance to being subjugated. The principal tool used to establish English control was land usurpation achieved through military adventures and legislation. This led to poverty, political disenfranchisement, religious harassment, the consequences of which were civil and human rights issues, health problems and starvation. The English Parliament put an economic squeeze on Ireland by refusing to allow the exporting of its textiles, giving priority to its own woolens and textiles. We had a similar situation
in Newfoundland with the Bond - Blaine Treaty in 1890; a free trade deal was completed with the United States in return for allowing American fisherman access to Newfoundland's bait supplies. Britain refused to ratify the deal because of objections from Canada, which feared American expansion.
Ireland did quite well after joining the European Union in 1973 when their unemployment rate was 19%; today we are told, it is 5%. Given low tax incentives, many companies moved in demanding young skilled
workers. In the nineties Ireland was referred to as the Celtic Tiger, many young people returned home
leading to a housing boom. Things have settled down somewhat today. We had a similar situation here in
2008 when Newfoundland and Labrador became a "have" province, when oil revenues were at their peak
and our economy seemed to be booming. We can't say the same about today's world.
Newfoundland and Ireland have both had a strong connection with the United States. The Irish immigrated to Newfoundland in the late 18th century and peaked with 35,000 during prosperous times in the early 1800's. Nearly one million Irish, including the Kennedy's and Henry Ford's ancestors, arrived in the U S A during the Irish potato famine during the 1840's, most landing in New York. Especially in the 1930's Newfoundlanders
immigrated to the Boston States. Newfoundland iron workers were among the 3400 emigrants which completed the Empire State Building in 410 days, twelve days ahead of schedule, unheard of in today's age
of overruns and delays. There was a Furness Withy weekly freight and passenger service from St. John's to
Boston and New York, and we had our railway. Newfoundland was accessible and Americans visited here.
Ironically, eighty years later, during a recent heavy rainstorm, motorists were stranded for more than a day,
and it happened in a National Park. A further deterrent to our accessibility is our ferry service and rates. One
can get a flight to Europe for the cost of getting from one province to another.
It may be worth noting that in 1949, Ireland got out of, while Newfoundland stayed in the British Commonwealth . There are similarities in the landscape, since scientists believe that many millions of years ago they were once joined together. Ireland's most popular tourist attraction, the Cliffs of Moher, with its 30,000 birds, would remind one of Cape St. Mary's, Baccalieu, Elliston, or any number of coves or headlands in Newfoundland
The Irish and Newfoundlanders share similar traits of character. Both are renowned for their friendliness and warm hospitality. Both have endured hard times and adversity but have maintained a composure and sense of humor that have helped them through, if not overcoming their circumstances. As one Irish guy coined it, When Americans run into difficulties they jump off a bridge, the Aussies jump in with the sharks, we go to Spain for a week. The tour guide said she had a coach filled with Newfoundlanders on one of her tours. I said That must have been a wild time. She responded, We had some fun.