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A BREAKTHROUGH IN BELFAST

Irish in L.A. Hail Good Friday News

Accord: They are jubilant that an end to decades of strife in their homeland is in sight.

April 11, 1998|CARLA RIVERA and SUE McALLISTER and ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Jim Murphy got the news at work from a colleague early Friday morning: At long last, he heard, perhaps there was an end to the strife that has riven his beloved Irish homeland for most of his memory.

"We always feel a sense of loss in connection with the homeland when we hear terrible headlines," said Murphy, the president of Van Nuys-based Brendan Tours. "But this is positive news. 'The Troubles' of all those decades may finally be coming to an end."

Many Irish Americans and members of the emigre community across Los Angeles voiced similar jubilation about the Northern Ireland peace agreement reached Friday.

They used words such as "elated," "optimistic," "joyous" and "hopeful." But most also said that they had their fingers crossed that the accord, aimed at ending decades of deadly warfare, will mean a permanent peace and not be undone by new outbreaks of violence.

"I think 95% of the people in Ireland, north and south, want this," said Michael Keady, manager of the Irish Rover Pub in Santa Monica. "But that's not the way the world works. There are always some on both sides who only want violence."

Paddy O'Neil, 28, a contractor who moved to Santa Monica from Northern Ireland four years ago, spoke to his family in Belfast on Friday afternoon and said they were optimistic but cautious until they knew more.

"I think everybody who lives in Belfast and has been through this in the last 25 years is obviously delighted," he said.

But he added: "People just want to know what has happened. You can't really be delighted until you know what to be delighted about."

Still, Keady and others said that Friday's agreement offered them the most hope in decades. He said he was expecting a boisterous, happy crowd at his pub Friday night.

At O'Briens restaurant and pub in Santa Monica, owner Willy O'Sullivan, who moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago from Cork, was hopeful but a tad more wary. "If peace is not solidified right now, then things are going to get an awful lot worse," he said.

He went on: "I think it's a bit early to celebrate. When it's been there for five years, that's when I'd be sure there's peace and a solution has been found."

James McDonough publishes Irish News and Entertainment, a monthly publication that hit newsstands before Friday's breakthrough. But McDonough said he may put out an extra.

"We're ecstatic," he said. "We formed seven years ago and dedicated the paper to peace, prosperity and pluralism. Everyone seems delighted, especially the people from the north who have been through the mill."

Those interviewed noted the symbolism of the dramatic Northern Ireland news being delivered on Good Friday.

"We've all prayed for peace, and it's coming at a very, very appropriate time--Easter, which is a feast of resurrection and a feast of hope," said Father Michael J. Slattery after services at St. John Baptist de la Salle Church in Granada Hills. The native of Waterford, Ireland, added: "There are about 40 million people of Irish extraction in the United States, and I think they are pleased."

Many observers said they had been glued to Cable News Network or Internet sites that were providing details of the accord. Most concluded that, if not a final political settlement, this agreement does at least provide a way to finally unite all sides.

"It's a sound framework because it's an inclusive framework that allows everyone to participate and everyone to have a stake in how Northern Ireland will move forward," said Jim Whelan, Western regional director of the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland, an arm of the Republic of Ireland that promotes U.S.-Irish business ties.

Many expressed hope for a domino effect--a peace that promotes economic prosperity that promotes an easing of tensions, much of which originally grew from northern Catholics' belief that they faced discrimination.

For Murphy, a peaceful Northern Ireland bodes well professionally as well as personally. His is among the largest firms in the U.S. dealing in tours to Ireland, and he is one of the few organizers who have regularly booked tour groups to Northern Ireland.

"We might take 60 or 70 reservations on a normal day, and then a bomb goes off and you immediately see the numbers drop," said Murphy, whose American-born daughter lives in Dublin.

In a typical year, he will book about 10,000 people into the north.

He predicted that Friday's events could double his business and produce a huge boost to the Northern Ireland economy. Visitors to the south have a range of new choices in hotels, restaurants and attractions, while Northern Ireland offers few amenities aside from its gorgeous geography, he said.

"But that will all change now," he said. "When my daughter comes over to visit, the question most people ask is 'What about the war?' But life in Ireland goes on most days just like anywhere else, and now maybe all people will have that luxury. Just normal life."

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