Clergy visit highlights Pittsburgh-Ireland ties |

Clergy visit highlights Pittsburgh-Ireland ties

Stephen Huba
Stephen Huba | Tribune-Review
From left to right: James Lamb, president of the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Gregory Dunstan, dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, and Frank Costello, author and historian.

Pittsburgh’s connections with Ireland may not seem apparent at first, but they are deep and ongoing — well beyond the late Pittsburgh Steelers President Dan Rooney’s stint as U.S. ambassador.

An Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh event at the Duquesne Club in Downtown Pittsburgh on Nov. 6 provided an introduction to that relationship with a visit from an Irish delegation.

The visitors were the Rev. Gregory Dunstan, dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh, and Francis “Frank” Costello, an American historian and author who has lived in Belfast for 21 years.

“Pittsburgh’s been a really important place on what is the long traditional, cultural and economic link [with Ireland],” Costello said.

The Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh has been organizing student and professional exchanges between Pittsburgh and Ireland since 1989. “We’re forever bringing people in, helping people from Pittsburgh go there, on different kinds of projects,” said James Lamb, institute president.

Dunstan’s third visit to the United States was not only as a clergyman in the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. He also spoke as a trustee of Armagh Robinson Library in County Armagh (pronounced Ar-MAH).

“I’m here to build links and relationships between Armagh and people in Pittsburgh who may be interested in our heritage and the sort of things we can share,” he said. “It’s about laying some foundations and making connections.”

Dunstan’s quick trip to Pittsburgh was partly to raise awareness and funds for the library, the oldest of its kind in Northern Ireland. Founded in 1771 by Archbishop Richard Robinson, the library holds documents important to the Enlightenment and the intellectual roots of the American Revolution, he said.

Those include the first edition of a book by Francis Hutcheson, whose thinking on “the pursuit of happiness” influenced Thomas Jefferson, the first Dublin printing of Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” and Benjamin Franklin’s writings on electricity.

“The thing that thrills most of our American visitors is our American atlas of 1775, showing the United States as it was then known,” Dunstan said. “We have, for instance, the map of Pennsylvania [which] has a lot of detail of eastern Pennsylvania. By the time you get to Pittsburgh, it shows Fort Pitt, formerly Fort Duquesne, right on the western edge of the map with nothing round it, except the rivers. This reflects the process of discovery as settlement moved west.”

Costello noted there was a lot of cross-pollination between Pennsylvania and the figures important to the American Revolution who came from Ireland and the British Isles.

Paine immigrated to the American colonies from England and settled in Philadelphia, where his pamphlet “Common Sense” was published. Charles Thomson came to Philadelphia from Ireland and later signed the Declaration of Independence. John Dunlap, who printed the Declaration, also was Irish.

“These were all people who came with an ideal of liberty … and knowledge of the great resources Pennsylvania had,” Costello said. “There are deep links intellectually — and blood, sweat and tears.”

Dunstan’s Pittsburgh trip also included a meeting with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life Congregation. At his synagogue, 11 Jewish worshipers from three congregations died in a mass shooting on Oct. 27, 2018.

“It was deeply moving to listen to the rabbi explaining his life and the life of his community since that terrible day — his ministry with that community and how people are responding to what happened,” Dunstan said.

At the end of their meeting, the Jewish and Anglican clergymen together prayed Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!”

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Armagh Robinson Library’s 250th Anniversary Endowment Appeal, visit, or send a check to the Irish American Partnership, 15 Broad St., Suite 210, Boston, MA 02109, and write “ARL” in the memo.

The library has nonprofit status in the United States.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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