seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Closing of the Magdalene Laundries

magdalene-laundriesThe last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as the Magdalene Asylums, closes on September 25, 1996.

The Magdalene Laundries are institutions usually run by Roman Catholic orders, which operate from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. They are run ostensibly to house “fallen women,” a term primarily referring to prostitutes in the late 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, Magdalene laundries are filled with many different kinds of women, including girls who are “not prostitutes at all”, but either “seduced women” or women who have yet to engage in sexual activity.

Several religious institutes establish even more Irish laundries, reformatories and industrial schools, sometimes all together on the same plot of land, with the aim to “save the souls primarily of women and children.” Examples are Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge and the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, who run the largest laundries in Dublin. These large complexes become a massive interlocking system, carefully and painstakingly built up over a number of decades. Consequently, Magdalene laundries become part of Ireland’s “larger system for the control of children and women.”

An estimated 30,000 women are confined in these institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is unknown how many women resided in the Magdalene institutions after 1900. Vital information about the women’s circumstances, the number of women, and the consequences of their incarceration is unknown. Due to the religious institutes’ “policy of secrecy,” their penitent registers and convent annals remain closed to this day, despite repeated requests for information.

In Dublin in 1993, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sell part of the land in their convent to a property developer to cover money lost in share dealings on the stock exchange. This leads to the discovery of 133 corpses in a mass grave. The Sisters arrange to have the remains cremated and reburied in another mass grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, splitting the cost of the reburial with the developer who had bought the land. It later transpires that there are 22 more corpses than the sisters had applied for permission to exhume. In all, 155 corpses were exhumed and cremated.

Discovery of the mass grave leads to media revelations about the operations of the secretive institutions. A formal state apology is issued in 2013, and a £50 million compensation scheme for survivors is set up by the Irish Government. The religious orders which operate the laundries have rejected activist demands that they financially contribute to this programme.

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OHCHR Mary Robinson Criticises U.S. for Violating Human Rights

mary-robinsonOn August 30, 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, criticises the United States for violating human rights in its war on terrorism and of trying to scale back plans to save the world’s poorest people.

Robinson becomes the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 12, 1997, following her nomination to the post by Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and the endorsement of the General Assembly.

She assumes responsibility for the UN human rights programme at the time when the Office of the High Commissioner and the Centre for Human Rights are consolidated into a single Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

As High Commissioner, Robinson gives priority to implementing the Secretary-General’s reform proposal to integrate human rights into all the activities of the United Nations. During her first year as High Commissioner, she travels to Rwanda, South Africa, Colombia and Cambodia, among other countries. In September 1998, she becomes the first High Commissioner to visit China and signs an agreement with the Government for OHCHR to undertake a wide-ranging technical-cooperation programme to improve human rights in that country. She also strengthens human rights monitoring in such conflict areas as Kosovo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Her term of office expires in 2002 after sustained pressure from the United States leads her to declare she is no longer able to continue her work.

Robinson comes to the United Nations after a distinguished, seven-year tenure as President of Ireland. She is the first Head of State to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there. She is also the first Head of State to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, and receives the CARE Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts for that country.

Before she is elected President of Ireland in 1990, Robinson serves as Senator for 20 years. Born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo, she is called to the bar in 1967 and two years later becomes the youngest Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1973, she becomes a member of the English Bar (Middle Temple). She becomes a Senior Counsel in 1980, and serves as a member of the Advisory Commission of Inter-Rights (1984-1990) and as a member of the International Commission of Jurists (1987-1990).

Educated at Trinity College, Robinson holds law degrees from the King’s Inns in Dublin and from Harvard University. She has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, medals and prizes from universities and humanitarian organizations around the world. In July 2009, she is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States, by U.S. President Barack Obama.


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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)


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The Sack of Baltimore

sack-of-baltimoreThe Sack of Baltimore takes place on June 20, 1631 when the village of Baltimore, County Cork is attacked by the Ottoman Algeria and Republic of Salé slavers from the Barbary Coast of North Africa. The attack is the largest by Barbary pirates on either Ireland or Great Britain.

The attack is led by a Dutch captain, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger. Murad’s force is led to the village by a man called Hackett, the captain of a fishing boat he had captured earlier, in exchange for his freedom. Hackett is subsequently hanged from the clifftop outside the village for conspiracy.

Murad’s crew, made up of Dutchmen, Moroccans, Algerians and Ottoman Turks, launches their covert attack on the remote village on June 20, 1631. They capture 107 villagers, mostly English settlers along with some local Irish people (some reports put the number as high as 237). The attack is focused on the area of the village known to this day as the Cove. The villagers are put in irons and taken to a life of slavery in North Africa.

There are conspiracy theories relating to the raid. It has been suggested that Sir Walter Coppinger, a prominent Catholic lawyer and member of the leading Cork family, who had become the dominant power in the area after the death of Sir Thomas Crooke, 1st Baronet, the founder of the English colony, orchestrates the raid to gain control of the village from the local Gaelic chieftain, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll. It is O’Driscoll who had licensed the lucrative pilchard fishery in Baltimore to the English settlers. Suspicion also points to O’Driscoll’s exiled relatives, who had fled to Spain after the Battle of Kinsale, and had no hope of inheriting Baltimore by legal means. On the other hand, Murad may have planned the raid without any help. It is known that the authorities had advance intelligence of a planned raid on the Cork coast, although Kinsale is thought to be a more likely target than Baltimore.

Some prisoners are destined to live out their days as galley slaves, rowing for decades without ever setting foot on shore while others spend long years in harem or as labourers. At most, only three of them ever return to Ireland. One is ransomed almost at once and two others in 1646.

In the aftermath of the raid, the remaining villagers move to Skibbereen, and Baltimore is virtually deserted for generations.

(Pictured: “The sack of Baltimore (West Cork), ca. 1890-1891” pen and ink by Jack Butler Yeats)


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Death of IRA Hunger Striker Michael Gaughan

michael-gaughanMichael Gaughan, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, dies on hunger strike on June 3, 1974 in HM Prison Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, England.

Gaughan, the eldest of six children, is born in Ballina, County Mayo, on October 5, 1949. He grows up at Healy Terrace and is educated at St. Muredach’s College, Ballina. After finishing his schooling, he emigrates from Ireland to England in search of work.

While in London, Gaughan becomes a member of the Official Irish Republican Army through Official Sinn Féin‘s English wing Clann na hÉireann and becomes an IRA volunteer in a London-based Active Service Unit. In December 1971, he is sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years imprisonment for his part in an IRA fundraising mission to rob a bank in Hornsey, north London, which yields just £530, and for the possession of two revolvers.

Gaughan is initially imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs, where he spends two years before being transferred to the top security HM Prison Albany on the Isle of Wight. While at Albany Prison, he requests political status, which is refused, and he is then placed in solitary confinement. He is later transferred to Parkhurst Prison, where four of the Belfast Ten are on hunger strike for political status.

On March 31, 1974, Gaughan, along with current Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, Paul Holme, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg, go on hunger strike to support the fight of Dolours and Marion Price to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners demands are as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison

British policy at this time is to force-feed hunger strikers. According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, “six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.”

After visiting Gaughan in jail, his brother John describes his condition, “His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.”

During his hunger strike, Gaughan’s weight drops from 160 lbs. to 84 lbs. He is force-fed for the first time on April 22 and this occurs 17 times during course of his hunger strike. The last time he is force-fed is the night before his death. After a hunger strike that lasts 64 days, Michael Gaughan dies on Monday, June 3, 1974, at the age of 24.

The cause of Gaughan’s death is disputed. The British government states that he died of pneumonia. The Gaughan family state that he died after prison doctors injured him fatally when food lodged in a lung punctured by a force-feeding tube. His death causes controversy in English medical circles, as some forms of treatment can be classed as assault if given without the express permission of the patient.

The timing of Gaughan’s death comes just one week after the British Government had capitulated to the demands of Ulster loyalist hunger strikers. After his death, the British government’s policy of force-feeding ends and the remaining hunger strikers are given assurances that they will be repatriated to Irish prisons. However, these promises are reneged on by the British government.

Gaughan’s body is initially removed from London and on June 7-8 over 3,000 mourners line the streets of Kilburn and march behind his coffin, which is flanked by an IRA honour guard, to a Requiem Mass held in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Following the Requiem Mass, his body is transported to Dublin, where again it is met by mourners and another IRA honour guard who bring it to the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands file past as it lay in state. The following day, his body is removed to Ballina, County Mayo. A funeral mass takes place on June 9, at St. Muredach’s Cathedral, and the procession then leads to Leigue Cemetery. Gaughan is given a full IRA funeral and is laid to rest in the republican plot, where Frank Stagg would join him after being reburied in November 1976. His funeral is attended by over 50,000 people and is larger than the funeral of former president Éamon de Valera the following year.


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Caroline Casey Completes 4-month Elephant Ride Across India

caroline-caseyVisually-impaired Irish adventurer, activist and management consultant Caroline Casey arrives back in Dublin on May 11, 2001 after a four-month elephant ride across India during which she raises €250k for charity.

Casey, born in 1971, is diagnosed with ocular albinism as a child but is not personally informed until her 17th birthday. She graduates from University College Dublin with BA, DBS and MBS degrees. She works at a couple of jobs including as a management consultant for Accenture.

In 2000, at the age of 28, Casey leaves her job at Accenture to launch the Aisling Foundation, with an aim to improve how disability is treated. In early 2001, she begins her solo trek across India on elephant back. She travels approximately 1,000 km and raises €250k for The National Council for the Blind of Ireland and Sightsavers. She becomes the first female mahout from the west. The journey is the subject of a National Geographic documentary Elephant Vision and a TED Talk.

Then, as founding CEO of Kanchi in Dublin, Casey develops a set of best practices for businesses, to help them see “disabled” workers as an asset, as opposed to a liability. Hundreds of companies have adopted these standards, changing their policies and attitudes. In 2004, she starts the Ability Awards, sponsored by O2, to recognize Irish businesses for their inclusion of people with disabilities, as employees, suppliers, customers and members of the community. The initiative receives great international praise and, in 2010, a parallel program is launched in Spain, backed by Telefónica.

In 2015 Casey founds business inclusion company Binc which, in August 2017, launches #valuable – a worldwide call to action for business to recognise the value and potential of the 1 billion people living with a disability and position disability equally on the global business agenda. To start the conversation and build momentum, Casey embarks on a 1,000km horse adventure through Colombia, ending with a keynote address at “One Young World Summit 2017” in Bogotá.


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Birth of Mary Hayden, Historian & Activist

mary-haydenMary Teresa Hayden, Irish historian, Irish language activist and campaigner for women’s causes, is born in Dublin on May 9, 1862.

Hayden is educated initially at the Dominican College, Eccles Street and then at Alexandra College in Dublin. She attends the Royal University of Ireland where she graduates with a BA in 1885 and an MA in 1887 in Modern Languages. With Agnes O’Farrelly she campaigns for women’s rights in the university.

A campaigner for gender equality and noted as a public speaker, Hayden is a prominent member of the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association. She is a member of the Gaelic League and friends with Patrick Pearse. However, she opposes violence and disapproves of the 1916 Easter Rising.

In 1911 Hayden is elected to the senate of the National University of Ireland and in 1915 is appointed Professor of History at University College Dublin, a position she retains until her death.

Hayden helps to form the Women’s Social and Progressive League as a political party committed to opposing the 1937 constitution of Ireland and any regressive consequences it would entail. She opposes articles 40, 41, and 45 concerning the status of women.

Mary Hayden dies in Dublin on July 12, 1942.