Read about the transformation taking place at the former site of one of Northern Ireland's most notorious prisons!


The Common Ground

Vol. IV, Issue 12


      December 2006



                 News Updates






letter from the editor 


The recent developments at Stormont have been fascinating. Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, political adversaries for decades, are now engaged in a most complex dance.

Both find themselves under tremendous pressure within their parties and among their respective larger communities to deliver a way forward. Extremists on both sides blast the two parties for considering compromise. Meanwhile, centrists and the involved governments lament their resistance to that idea.

But Paisley and Adams have both sought balance in maintaining support among their constituents. They are working through some tough issues, and are bound to lose supporters through this process.

I am encouraged by their shared circumstances. Both leaders are understanding the difficulties his opponent faces. Both intend to push and embrace devolved government. Both are committed to peace.

While the next few months will tell more about the tone and direction of the peace talks, for now I am truly optimistic.

Jim Lamb, President

Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh


This month, we continue our series about Pittsburgh's Irish Organizations featuring information about Conradh naGaeilge.


In our Letter from the Editor section, Jim comments on the advances made by Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams.


There's also a look at some latest book releases in Ireland and news of former MLA Representative Patricia Lewsley's new post.



Conradh NaGaeilge 

With its rich Irish history and tradition, Pittsburgh was a logical location for Conradh na Gaeilge to extend their mission of promoting the Irish language. With the  determination of people dedicated to the preservation of the Irish language, the Gaelic League of Pittsburgh was formed. Since its inception the members have been working to promote the historical significance and beauty of the Irish language throughout the Pittsburgh area.

One of the most successful (and fun) events the Gaelic League has sponsored has been their Gaeltacht weekends. Over the past decade the Gaeltacht immersion weekends have been used to initiate beginners into the Irish language and also provide intermediate and advanced learners the opportunity to converse with other students of the language. Another weekend is being planned for early summer.

In addition to the weekends, the Gaelic League offers ongoing Irish classes for different levels throughout the year. New classes are being planned for January for students with some experience and beginners alike. If anyone is interested in learning the language, they should contact Karyn Adamson at With the resurgence of interest in the Irish language in Ireland and abroad, the Gaelic League continues to search for new and interesting ways to encourage new learners and also to raise awareness and interest in joining the Gaelic League.

You can visit their website at

Nollaig Shona Duit - Happy Christmas!


Please submit your feedback to:  Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh * Regional Enterprise Tower

 * 425 Sixth Avenue, Suite 300 * Pittsburgh, PA 15219 or

Call/fax our offices:  Telephone:  (412) 394-3900  * Fax:  (412) 394-0502

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Ms. Patricia Lewsley has resigned as a member of the SDLP in order to take up a new position as Northern Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner. The position, which Patricia refers to as giving her the ability to be a “powerful, influential and independent voice for all children and young people”, was formerly occupied by Nigel Williams, who died earlier this year. She feels it will give her the opportunity to "represent their [children’s] interests, to protect their rights and to challenge all those who work with and for children to do better."

In order to take the job Ms. Lewsley had to withdraw from the political arena, giving up her positions as councilor member of the SDLP party and member of the Northern Ireland Assembley.


The position itself will last for four years with the possibility of renewing it at that point.


Ms. Lewsley has visited Pittsburgh many times throughout her political career and is a good friend of the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh. We wish her all the best in the future.


On the 6th December the Irish Government issue their projected budget for 2007. Minister for Finance Brian Cowen delivered his third budget, the last before the General Election. It is generally felt that no Finance Minister ever had an easier task in framing a Budget, as tax revenue has been flowing into the Exchequer at unprecedented rates in recent months and at a much faster rate than anticipated in last year's budget. This allowed Finance Minister, Brian Cowen to be generous. He increased Government spending by 11.5% while maintaining a projected general Government surplus of 1.2%. The following are some of the key items:

· INCOME TAX: The top rate has been reduced from 42% to 41%;

· EXCISE DUTIES: 50c has been added to the price of a packet of cigarettes; the duty on home heating oil (€16 per 1,000 litres) has been abolished; there is no change in the duties on road fuel or alcohol.

· PENSIONS: The contributory old-age pension increases from €193.30 to €209.30 per week while the non-contributory pension goes up from €182 to €200 per week.

· SOCIAL WELFARE: Rates increase by €20 a week, with the minimum rising to €185.80.

· CHILD BENEFIT: A €10 per month increase for each child.

· ENVIRONMENT: Farmers are being offered generous grants to change over to crops that can be used to create Biomass fuels; consultations are to take place to see how best to tax cars to favor those less harmful to the environment.










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From Borroloola to mangerton mountain

We wanted to draw your attention to two books that are getting some great reviews in Ireland at the moment, and if you haven't already completed your Christmas shopping, would make great gifts. Micheal O'Muircheartaigh (pronounced Mee-hal Murrahurthig), is a legendary sports commentator and aficionado of Gaelic sports. His latest book "From Borroloola to Mangerton Mountain" tells the stories of many of the interesting people he has met throughout his life. His sporting career has taken him to all corners of the world, in the course of which he has met many interesting people and heard stories of some long since dead. In Australia he was particularly taken with the story of Charles Yelverton O'Connor, whose vision brought water to the western part of the continent. The author also acknowledges the huge part paid by loyal sports supporters in his profiles of Joan O'Sullivan from Co. Mayo and Crossmaglen's Margaret McConville. At the same time he does not neglect the more controversial issues of the day and addresses the topics of professionalism in football and hurling, the problems of alcoholism among young people, and the decline of the Church in Ireland.


Brian D'Arcy, known in Ireland for his weekly column in the Sunday World, one of Ireland's top-selling newspapers, has written a book which sets out not only all the wrongs inflicted on young priests and on the priesthood in general, but also a book which chronicles his life as chaplain to the entertainment industry in Ireland. One of the best-known priests in the country, Father Brian D'Arcy joined the Passionist order in his native Fermanagh at the age of seventeen, and from the day he entered to the time of writing this latest book he has suffered from doubts as to whether he had made the right choice. His grappling with this problem and the honesty with which he reveals his shortcomings, his fear for his family's reaction were he to leave, and the help and advice he received from clergy and lay people, give a vivid portrayal of the realities of the priestly life.


Martin Sheen, star of tv drama, The West Wing and movie Apocalypse Now has just completed four months of study at University College Galway. Sheen, whose mother hailed from Galway, said that he would like to take up residence in Ireland after he retires from the 'The West Wing'.


Sheen said: "I never got my high school diploma and have always felt a need to address that." 


"My plan [was] to read English literature, philosophy and theology in Galway, in Ireland, where my late mother came from and where I am also a citizen," the 64-year-old actor said. 


He complimented the Irish "feeling of community" yesterday as he summed up his experience of studying as a mature student saying "This country has maintained its humanity and it is reflected in the feeling of community everywhere, people don't say hello to you here, they bless you."


"I have had the most extraordinary adventure the last four months," said Sheen, who travels back to America next week.


The average cost of a home in Northern Ireland has increased significantly over the last number of months. Average house prices are now in excess of £180,000 with prices rising by a third in the last year. This current boom has seen property values outgrow Scotland, Wales and the north of England.

Less than 10% of houses now sell for under £100,000 as continuing demand fuels the unprecedented surge. Lisburn in County Antrim experienced the most staggering increase, with terraced/townhouses soaring by 65% over 12 months.

Experts involved in the University of Ulster`s latest quarterly house price index, produced with Bank of Ireland and the Housing Executive, said they were in unchartered territory. Co-author Professor Stanley McGreal said: "The big questions are whether this is a spike, how long can such rates of increase continue and what are the long-term implications for the housing market." The University’s study examined nearly 2,300 transactions involving more than 100 estate agents across all areas.


Bank of Ireland Economist Alan Bridle said: "We are in the throes of a boom of unprecedented proportions. Investors are playing a major role in driving demand, with money from the Republic of Ireland particularly influential in border locations. While some investors are selling to make gains, there is still a queue of buyers waiting to snap up available stock.”


Only 9% of properties were sold at £100,000 or below, while 59% went for more than £150,000.

The highest priced city location was still south Belfast (£208,270), followed by east Belfast (£192,811), west Belfast (£143,575) and north Belfast (£129,570).


opportunities available to host a young person from Ireland or northern Ireland this summer!

This Summer & Fall, over forty young men and women from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland arrived in Pittsburgh to participate in our Wider Horizons program.  Both groups from Tyrone & Donegal and Monaghan & Armagh received on-the-job training, personal development, exposure to American culture, and new insights into the problems at home through conflict resolution.  After their program they participants return to Ireland, hopeful of securing employment and living in peace. 


A key success in both these programs has been our Host Family program - the young people are placed with host families during their stay in Pittsburgh.  Those of you who are currently hosting or have hosted participants in the past have our thanks for opening your hearts and homes.  No doubt you may be called upon again, but we also ask you to recruit any interested friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Host Family help is vital in providing a positive and rewarding experience for the participants.


For more information on becoming a Host Family, please contact the Ireland Institute at 412-394-3900.  






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Work began recently on the demolishing of the Maze Prison just outside Belfast. The 360-acre site near Lisburn, Co Antrim, is being cleared for a 42,000-seat sports stadium, a multi-screen cinema, an up-market hotel, restaurants, an indoor equestrian center, an "international center for conflict transformation" and, possibly, an ice rink. 

The government-backed project is designed to symbolize the end of the Troubles and help regenerate the province's peacetime economy. Most of the jail's H Blocks will be bulldozed but the hospital wing where Bobby Sands and nine other IRA prisoners starved themselves to death during the hunger strike, in pursuit of political recognition for their cause, will be preserved.

Northern Ireland Office minister David Hanson said that the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), soccer and rugby ruling bodies have all nominated representatives for a design steering group. However, the final decision to build the £120m complex may not be taken for another 18 months. 

For nearly thirty years, the Maze prison played a unique role in the Northern Ireland troubles. Built in 1976 to house prisoners sentenced largely as a result of the troubles, political segregation was so fierce it lead to scenes of violent protests, hunger strikes, mass escapes, and deaths of both prisoners and prison staff. At its peak capacity in the 1980s the Maze housed more than 1,700 prisoners, but in September 2000, under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, the prison was closed and the last four prisoners were transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland.

















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Our Mission:


Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre presents The Shaughraun Performances at Charity Randall Theatre in the Stephen foster Memorial, Oakland. Information 412.561.6000.              December 6th - 23rd

Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle  24th St. & Penn Ave. In The Strip, 412.642.6622 – features Seamus Kennedy, one of the finest entertainers to grace a Pittsburgh stage.  Singer, musician, story teller; he’ll keep you in stitches; 9:00pm.  One Night ONLY and last performance this year.                                                                        Saturday December 16th


We're always looking for events to include: If you'd like to include your next event in this newsletter, please send event information including date, time, location, admission cost, and contact information to

become a regular at these local programs!

 Listen to Echoes of Erin, now in its 17th year, every Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. on WEDO, 810 AM.  Diane Byrnes has Irish music, news, and other great information


Paddy's Pour House located on Main Street in Carnegie, PA hosts live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night starting at 9:00 p.m.  Tuesday nights join Dennis Murphy with "Get Educated and Entertained as only 'Murph' can" from 8:00-12:00.  For more information, visit their website or call (412) 279-0770.


Catch the Thistle and Shamrock every Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. on WYEP 91.3FM for Celtic music performances and discussions.

The Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh’s mission is to promote mutual understanding of the Catholic and Protestant traditions in Northern Ireland and economic development throughout all of Ireland. The Institute fulfills its mission by providing quality programs in job training, economic development, leadership development, educational alliances and reconciliation. The Institute is a change-oriented organization that collaborates with industry, educational and government institutions in the development of all programs.