In 1875 John Kehoe said: “the Ancient Order of Hibernians is a chartered organization,
recognized by the commonwealth, and composed of men who are law-abiding, and seek the elevation of their members. … nothing can be more unjust than to charge the order
with any acts of lawlessness.” This blog argues for the innocence of many, if not all, of the AOH men prosecuted as “Molly Maguires” in the Pennsylvania coal fields in the 1870s on evidence supplied by the Pinkerton agency.
Seamus Heaney, beloved poet and chronicler of the conflict
in Northern Ireland, passed away on August 30.
“He turned our disgrace into grace …” said Fintan O’Toole in
the Irish Times. Eileen Battersby, describing this “moment of profound
universal grief,” said: “It has been many, many years, probably not since the
death of Tolstoy at a railway station master’s hut, has the announcement of a
death of a writer caused such a cohesive, collective and universal sorrow.”
Mourners spoke of Heaney’s wit, of his sagacity—and,
continually, of his profound humanity. They spoke of the stacks of mail that
appeared on his desk; mail he made every effort to answer, though such
diligence further crowded his own, already daunting, schedule.
I was one of those supplicants. In the mid-1990s, at a
sister’s insistence, I sent Heaney a sheaf of poetry. I did not expect a
response. The Nobel committee had just awarded Ireland’s chief poet its prize for
But respond he did, apologizing for “the brevity” of his
note. “Your poems were waiting among a mountain of other material – and other
poems – when I got here yesterday,” this kind man said. “I am in Harvard now only
for a couple of days.”
He continued: “I was touched, of course, to hear an echo of
‘The Singer’s House,’ and pleased by the tension and reticence of the writing
in general. …”
The poem he referenced, a poem that echoed one of his own,
I’d written for the child of a distant acquaintance who was born with a
deformity: a child born without ears.
On Heaney's death Ireland’s
president, Michael Higgins, paid tribute to the poet's legacy. "Generations of Irish people will have been familiar with Seamus's poems. Scholars all over the world will have
gained from the depth of the critical essays, and so many rights
organisations will want to thank him for all the solidarity he gave to the
struggles within the republic of conscience.”
Heaney memorialized the universal sorrow of conflict. In
“Funeral Rites,” his women left behind in empty kitchens resembled women I’d
researched; women who’d survived this country’s “Molly Maguire” conflict. His
“tight gag of place / And times” from “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing” described
what I’d glimpsed of the conflict in Pennsylvania’s
hard coal fields—and of the troubled, contentious, controversial telling of its
The poem I wrote that echoed Heaney’s “The Singer’s House” is titled
“Swimmer.” I offer it here in honor and memory of this great and singular man.