Facing down inequality and building a better Ireland

A Letter From Ireland

a Chara,

I am writing from somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on a flight to Hartford, Connecticut, which will be followed by a trip to Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield, the birthplace of basketball, is also the home of many generations of Irish Americans. It was the final destination of many Blasket Islanders, cleared from the coast of Kerry. Many followed the path of family and friends to the town.

Horace Mann

An island people, they were native Irish speakers, and they brought their language, music and song with them. Their children and grandchildren remain. It is also the home of Westfield State University, where Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald is to be awarded an honorary degree. The following day she will meet with members of the Irish American community at the John Boyle O’Reilly Club.

Like Mann, John Boyle O’Reilly was a leader in a true sense. Both spoke out against the prevailing sentiment of the time and worked to better the lot of all.

Westfield University was established by Horace Mann, a leader who recognised the liberating power of education. A humanitarian, he believed that this power should be shared by all regardless of status, creed, or gender. He remains an icon of education, equality, and social progress. More than 70 schools across the United States are named after him, his impact on modern education is so widespread.

O’Reilly was a committed Irish Republican, he was arrested and sentenced to penal servitude in Australia for his part in a failed rising against the British in Ireland.

John Boyle O’Reilly

He escaped and made his way to Boston where his writing skills were recognised by the Irish American newspaper, The Pilot. He brought with him the United Irishmen’s universal principles of equality, solidary, and liberty.

He challenged the poverty experienced by the Irish in slums of Boston mostly at the hands of Irish landlords and politicians. A committed abolitionist, he challenged those who proclaimed themselves to be Irish to make common cause with the slaves and not the slave owners.

While the absolute poverty that Mann and Boyle O’Reilly railed against is gone, inequality persists, and racism remains. Both are symbiotic.

These two leaders remain icons of what is possible. The ideas of Mann changed education across the world. John Boyle O’Reilly left us a cannon of writing and activism which still demonstrates the potential of an individual to make a difference.

When I return to Ireland I will be back on the doors as we edge closer to an election. The example of Mann and John Boyle O’Reilly will spur me on through the last weeks of the election.

Irish Republicanism and the ideals of Mann remain as relevant today as we face down inequality and build a better Ireland for all the people.

Have a great weekend

Is mise,


Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.