Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canary in the Coal Mine


Israel is a canary in America’s coal mine. Miners kept a caged canary in the mineshaft as they worked and watched it carefully. Should odorless poison gas creep into the air, the canary would be affected first. It it collapsed, miners had to do something or they wouldn’t survive either. Both America and Israel are threatened by the poison of Radical Islam. We face the same enemy.

Israel’s creation in 1948, or rather its re-creation after going out of existence for nearly two millennia, was improbable - indeed it was unprecedented in all of history. America’s creation was improbable too - a tiny strip of land between the Appalachians and the Atlantic in 1776 - fighting the British in the north and across the sea, Indians in the west and south. Both are outposts of democracy in a world hostile to it. Israel is on the front line. It’s our canary and we must watch it closely. Both will elect a new government soon and our victory or defeat against Radical Islam will be strongly influenced. Choices are similar too. Will we pick aggressive leaders or conciliatory ones? Will we show Radical Islam our fists or the tails between our legs?

Will Israel pick someone to carry on outgoing Prime Minister Olmert’s policy of appeasement? He wanted to give the Golan Heights to Syria and the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. Considering how giving over the Gaza Strip worked out, Israel might as well commit suicide now and get it over with. Land for peace is a failed policy, as Neville Chamberlain discovered when dealing with Hitler. Europe’s Jews were almost wiped out for Chamberlain’s folly. Those who survived the Holocaust formed modern Israel. Israelis fought four wars in twenty-five years against larger, Arab-Muslim neighbors dedicated to its destruction.

After four humiliating defeats, those enemies changed tactics. They don’t invade with conventional planes, tanks and troops. Now they use teenaged suicide bombers and rockets launched from civilian population centers by Iranian proxies Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and by Hamas in Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran builds nuclear weapons and promises to wipe Israel off the map. In spite of fifty years in an almost constant state of war, many Israelis still believe Radical Islam can be appeased and Chamberlain-like policies will bring peace.

Winston Churchill defined appeasement as: “Feeding the crocodile, hoping he’ll eat you last.” Hitler gobbled up mainland Europe and took near-fatal bites out of England before America stepped in. If Israeli appeasers elect another Olmert, Israel is doomed.

Modern Israel was founded by Jews who were determined to have their own military to defend themselves against the Hitlers who would make them extinct. Today’s Hitler takes the form of Radical Islam which denies the Holocaust while preparing nuclear genocide. In the face of this grave threat, many Israelis seem to have forgotten their birthright - they’re losing their identity, and if they don’t regain it, they’re doomed.

To wake up fellow Israelis, Natan Sharansky’s latest book is titled: “Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy.” Newsmax’s Christopher Ruddy interviewed Sharansky and reports:

The thesis of [Sharansky’s] book is that democratic society, if it has any hope for long-term survival, must offer an identity for its citizens. Looking out at the world, he says “our enemies look so dangerous because they have a strong will.” This means they have beliefs they are ready to die for. “The free world, if it does not have values for which people are ready to die, will be powerless, its people decadent. It will be doomed to failure.” Identity, he says, gives people these values. It is not the enemy, as many [multiculturalists] in the West believe. “Europe is suffering the most from a loss of identity. Faith and patriotism have weakened as it embraces a super-identity — all in an effort to avoid war.”

What’s the best way to avoid war? The “Bush Doctrine” - adopted after September 11th - authorized preemptive strikes against countries planning to attack us, but America, and Bush himself, have backed away. Voters will choose soon between Democrat Barack Obama - an appeasing worshiper of Multiculturalism, and Republican John McCain - someone who understands our enemy and is willing to do whatever it takes to defeat it. Israelis must decide soon if they will attack Iran before Iran “wipes it off the map” and vote accordingly. Do Israelis have the will? Do we? Iran is betting against it.

Martin Luther King said: “If a man has nothing he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.” If such people comprise the majority in Israel or the United States, neither country is fit to live and won’t for much longer. The Israeli canary is teetering on its perch.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McLaughlin Roots


Carrickabraghy Castle keep. All that's left of it on Isle of Doagh

Thirty years ago, I learned that my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin, emigrated to Boston from Isle of Doagh on the Inishowen Peninsula (pronounced “In-ish-own”) of Donegal with his brothers Michael and Jeremiah. They had a sister, Sarah, who stayed. Ever since, I’ve wanted to find the old homestead. Last week, I did.
Neal "Dick" McLaughlin and wife, Marge

If I’d put off the trip much longer, I wouldn’t have found it. Eighty-year-old Neal McLaughlin is the only one left there who remembers stories of my great-grandfather’s family and it took me three days to find him. Inishowen is loaded with McLaughlins - which they pronounce “Mac-Loch-lan.” The only name more common is Doherty, because the O’Doherty Clan defeated the McLaughlin Clan back in 1244 AD. Everyone I spoke to asked if James had a nickname. There are so many McLaughins that extended families get nicknames. For example, one of Neal’s ancestors was named Richard and called “Dick,” so Neal became “Neal Dick” to distinguish him from other Neal McLaughlins. Locals pronounce it “Nail Deck.”
Isle of Doagh, looking west at the Atlantic

The only other information I had was that in 1921 or 1922, my great-great-grandfather (whose nickname was “Wee John,” Neal told me) sold the family homestead to someone named McGonagle. According to family stories, Great-grandfather James went back to Ireland to settle the estate and bring back Michael’s and Jeremiah’s shares, but he stayed for seven years and returned to Boston with nothing. James liked to drink, and that’s where the money went. His brothers were not pleased of course, and may have come up with other nicknames for James Wee John, like “Shithead” perhaps. Though the brothers had emigrated more than a hundred years ago, I hoped that some older people in the neighborhood might have heard stories about James’s seven-year frolic in the 1920s. Neal McLaughlin - “Nail Deck” - had.
Isle of Doagh

It rained my first three days in Ireland. On the fourth I got to Inishowen - the northernmost tip of the country - and the sun was shining. My wife was sure we’d be killed driving on the left-hand side of its steep, narrow, winding roads, but we made it. Isle of Doagh is stunningly beautiful. One road leads to it across a boggy field, and then it’s sheep and cattle pasture, stone walls, limestone outcroppings, beaches, cliffs, grassy dunes, and the ruins of a castle - all surrounded by shallow bays and the Atlantic Ocean. As we explored, I wondered why James would leave such an enchanting place.
Yours truly with Glashedy Island behind off Isle of Doagh (Glashedy means "Green on top")

The first person we met was Mary McGeoghan, walking on the beach. She referred us to Marie McLaughlin, who lives at the end of the beach next to the ruins of Carrickabrachy Castle (built by the O’Dohertys). Marie is one of the “Castle McLaughlins.” I gave her my information but she couldn’t help me. She referred me on to Lily McLaughlin, (which she pronounced “Lally”) on the other side of the Isle. Neither Lily nor her many sons knew of James either. For three days, I knocked on doors and most people mentioned “Nail Deck” (among others) as someone who might be able to help me.
My wife, Roseann, at the castle

Neal lived in another part of town called Cloontagh (pronounced “Cloincha”) which means “gathering of houses” in Gaelic. He was on the phone when I walked up. He didn’t know me, but waved me inside anyway. When he hung up, I introduced myself and explained what I was looking for. He had a twinkle in his blue eyes as he listened patiently to my information. Then, to my great delight, he said he knew the family. He remembered stories about “James Wee John,” as my great-grandfather was called back then, and chuckled as he told me one: Sometime during James’s seven-year-frolic, a child was born and people were planning a Baptism celebration. James volunteered to take a chicken home to pluck and clean for the dinner. When it came time to cook though, James didn’t show up with the chicken. He’d gotten into some poteen (Irish moonshine - pronounced “pa-cheen”) and was found passed out in a field with the half-plucked chicken next to him.

“That sounds like James,” I said.
Carrickabraghy Castle keep from another angle

Neal, who is a retired farmer and building contractor with six sons, went on to tell me that Wee John’s house and ten acres were sold to James McGonagle for £160. Neal’s family owned the land around it then and still does. He knew James Wee John’s sister, “Sarah Wee John,” who married a Doherty and was “not long dead.” He said my great-great-grandparents - Wee John and his wife Winifred (nee McCarron) - are buried in the cemetery next to the chapel in Clonmany, just inside the gate, but don’t have stones.
"Wee John's" Lane with newer buildings to the left and right

Later, we drove to the old homestead. “There’s Wee John’s Lane,” said Neal. Up a sloping lane was a small house Neal remembered being built when he was a boy and now is used for storage. Stone sheds attached to it were older and probably existed during Wee John’s time. A still newer house and garage about ten years old stood nearer the road. The property displayed a typical evolution that can be seen everywhere as Ireland became prosperous.
Great-Great Grandfather "Wee John's" place, now a barn

I imagined how the place must have looked a century ago when Wee John lived there - very likely a modest, thatched-roof stone cottage with a low doorway. That’s what most of Ireland would have looked like then but little of that old Ireland remains. Few people are leaving the country these days. Affluent Ireland has an immigration problem now.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

People, Time and Place


Inishowen Peninsula

First come those dew-covered webs ground spiders make on the lawn. Then crickets start chirping as they are while I write - early on this misty morning. Ferns will begin to wither soon. Those are the signs of waning summer I notice each year. Others may detect different indications of the passing season, but those are the ones that bring me that familiar mixture of anticipation and dread when I realize that school will begin soon. It’s more anticipation than dread this year because I don’t know how many more first days there’ll for me. I’ve gone back in early September more than fifty times. When that pattern will end I don’t know, but it won’t be long.

As I sit here on my back porch, one of Ed Dunlea’s cows is lowing over on Shave Hill and a loon is crying on Kezar Lake. The mist is rolling back and forth between my hill and Ed’s like an ocean tide. When it’s over me I can’t see very far, but then it rolls the other way and I can see the mountainous horizon with a few patches of blue. I like it because there hasn’t been too much blue to look at up there lately. It’s warm and wet this day, but soon will come a morning crisp and dry. I’ll need long pants and a quilted shirt to sit out here so early, but that means the humidity will be gone too and I’ve had enough of that. The towel in my shower was clammy this morning and the salt shaker was caked up last night when I tried to sprinkle my corn.

It’s my habit to rise before the sun, when everything is still and I can watch the day dawn slowly while I go through my morning rituals. The dog knows I’m about, but no one else. The complicated world is simpler at this time. Early and alone is my favorite way to start the day. Then I’ll try to stay in it - stay in the moment if I can. I know my mind will drift away to the future or the past, but I hope I catch it and get back to the present before it gets lost. That’s not always easy for a history teacher. Today though, there’s much I must do to prepare for my journey to Ireland.

By the time this is published Thursday, I should be walking the streets of Dublin. When I tire of that, I’ll go north a bit to look over Newgrange, a five-thousand-year-old structure of white quartz and other stone. Little is known of the people who constructed it and carved its spiral patterns. Were any my ancestors? Don’t know. Nobody does. Then I’ll look over the Battle of the Boyne site nearby - that place where Catholics were defeated in 1690 and the Protestant British hardened their control over the island. Then I’ll head northwest to British-ruled Ulster where I want to feel what may remain of the struggle or “The Troubles” as they’re sometimes called. Many McLaughlins have lived in the city of Derry (or Londonderry as the British call it) for eight centuries, and still do. One, Mitchell McLaughlin, is General Secretary for Sinn Fein - political wing of the Irish Republican Army. He lives in Bogside, the Catholic quarter. Will it feel at all like my visit to the West Bank last year? I hope not, but we’ll see.

Then it’ll be on to Donegal further to the north - to the northernmost tip of Ireland (the Inishowen Peninsula) from where my great-grandfather, James McLaughlin, emigrated around 1900. It’s part of the Republic of Ireland and most people are surprised to hear that. “Northern Ireland” conjures up British-occupied Ireland, but it would more accurately be called “Northeast Ireland.” I want to find what remains of his house and get a feel for the people still there. After more than a century, will I recognize any by their looks or their laughter or by something else? We’ll see. I’ll keep my movie camera handy to record it if I do.

During the few August days I spend in that remote place, I’ll smell it, see it, hear it, and feel it - find out why my great-grandfather left it, and maybe get some clues about myself.

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