BY CHRISTINE WOLFF
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A summer trip to Ireland carries a dual mission for Jeffrey Keating: an historic look into an Irish priest's life that touched Cincinnati, and a nail-biting attempt to help ensure peace in Northern Ireland's future.
Jeffrey Keating poses with a bust of Archbishop John McNicholas.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Mr. Keating, a McNicholas High School teacher, will spend part of his two-week Ireland visit in the small County Mayo village of Kiltimagh. That's the birthplace -- and still home to relatives -- of the school's namesake, the late Archbishop John Timothy McNicholas, who led the Archdiocese of Cincinnati from 1925 until his death in 1950.
That will be the fun part, the vacation part -- meeting Archbishop McNicholas' niece and great-nephew, sharing details of the archbishop's life here, and, he hopes, establishing a connection with villagers that McNicholas' students can continue to nurture.
It's his other role he admits makes him a little apprehensive -- that of an observer Sunday in the Northern Ireland city of Portadown, and July 12 in Derry, of parades by thousands of Loyalists, who are predominantly Protestant.
The parades -- tradition for hundreds of years to commemorate Protestant holidays and military victories -- often spark violent confrontations when they go through predominantly Catholic neighborhoods.
Parade marchers chant and sing "triumphalists" songs and sayings that mock and demean Catholics, Mr. Keating said.
"Who knows what will
happen? There will be tension," Mr. Keating said. "It's the unsureness. Observers last year were thrashed. They were seen as participants. They made the mistake of trying to stop a fight."
A Catholic who's behind the social justice ideals of his religion, Mr. Keating, 47, of Mount Washington, said he wants to observe "to see for myself what is going on."
He's observing with about 30 other Americans associated with a two-year-old, Brooklyn-based group called Irish Parades Emergency Committee. The group works with residents' councils from Catholic neighborhoods in Northern Ireland who encourage the presence of objective eyes at the parades.
"We gather information for possible court cases and to report back here what happened," said Scott M.X. Turner, a committee spokesman in New York. "It's "the world is watching' approach."
The tension in Northern Ireland is especially thick this week. Arsonists set fire to 10 Catholic churches, and an Orange Hall was vandalized in what authorities suspect was retaliation for the church fires.
There are about 2,500 Loyalists parades a year throughout Northern Ireland; of those, about 20 spawn confrontations, Mr. Turner said.
"They are celebrating Protestant - Loyalists culture, and the Nationalists - Catholics say, "Fine -- go ahead,' " Mr. Turner said. "The problem comes when they insist on routing parades through Catholic neighborhoods. It's a taunting thing."
Northern Ireland is bracing for violence in the annual parade Sunday in Portadown, the site of bloodshed and bitterness in the past two years. The potential is heightened this year because of a British government ruling this week forbidding the Protestant Orange Order from marching on Portadown's Garvaghy Road.
The road once crossed a Protestant neighborhood, which has changed over the years to become predominantly Catholic, Mr. Turner said.
Members of the Orange Order are expected to ignore the ruling, he said. Sunday's parade "is the first acid test for the (new) peace accord," Mr. Turner said.
Between the parades for Mr. Keating will come Kiltimagh, where Archbishop McNicholas was born Dec. 15, 1877, the youngest of seven sons and one daughter of Patrick and Mary (Mullaney) McNicholas. The youngster moved at the age of 4 to Pennsylvania with his parents, and in 1894, entered the Dominican order of priests.
Mr. Keating began looking for the McNicholas home in 1996, but the itinerary of a tour he took with students changed and didn't go to Kiltimagh as planned. He resolved to go back.
"I'm determined that, before these people die, I want them to know how important this archbishop is," Mr. Keating said. "There is not just a stone marker for him but a growing, thriving, big-city high school named for him."
Latest update on Northern Ireland from Associated Press