seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Death of 1981 Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee, Irish republican volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on August 8, 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on hunger strike at Long Kesh Prison.

McElwee, the sixth of twelve children, is born on November 30, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in Bellaghy, County Derry, Northern Ireland. He attended St. Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then Clady intermediate. After leaving school he goes to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changes his mind and goes to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Harassment from loyalist workers there forces him to leave and he then goes to work with a local mechanic.

McElwee and his cousin Francis Hughes form an independent Republican unit, which for several years carries out ambushes on British Army patrols as well as bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.

In October 1976, McElwee takes part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he is transporting one of the bombs, which explodes prematurely and blinds him in his right eye. He is transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It is three weeks before he is able to see at all.

After six weeks McElwee is transferred again, this time to the military wing of the Musgrave Park Hospital. One week before Christmas, he is charged and sent to Crumlin Road Gaol.

At McElwee’s subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, he is charged and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for possession of explosives and the murder of Yvonne Dunlop, who is killed when one of the firebombs destroys the shop where she is employed. His murder charge is reduced to manslaughter on appeal, although the original jail term stands. He returns to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

Imprisonment is particularly harsh for McElwee and his brother Benedict who are frequently singled out for brutality by prison warders, outraged at the stubborn refusal of the two to accept any form of criminal status. On one occasion he is put on the boards for fourteen days for refusing to call a prison warder ‘sir.’ In a letter smuggled out to his sister Mary, Benedict writes of the imprint of a warder’s boot on his back and arms after a typical assault. However, throughout the brutality and degradation they have to endure serves only to deepen yet further, and harder, their resistance to criminalisation.

McElwee joins the 1981 Irish hunger strike on June 7, 1981 and died on August 8, 1981, after 62 days on the strike. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike, he is denied the comfort of his brother’s presence at that tragic moment. He dies after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders – colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years.

In 2009, Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) name their Waterford cumann after McElwee, replacing that of George Lennon, O/C of the Waterford Flying Column who led the IRA anti-Treaty Republicans into Waterford City in March 1922. The Waterford RSF had adopted the Lennon name without the permission of his son who noted that his father had, in later years, become a committed pacifist and opponent of the Vietnam War.

McElwee is the main subject of the song Farewell to Bellaghy, which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the independent Republican unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of The Crucifucks‘ song The Story of Thomas McElwee.


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Baptism of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Union Organizer & Activist

Mary G. Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones, an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who becomes a prominent union organiser, community organiser, and activist, is baptised on August 1, 1837, in Cork, County Cork. Her exact date of birth is uncertain. She is once deemed “the most dangerous woman in America” because of her union activities.

Jones is the daughter of Richard Harris, a Roman Catholic tenant farmer and railway labourer, and Ellen (née Cotter) Harris. She and her family are victims of the Great Famine, as are many other Irish families of the time. The famine forces more than a million families, including the Harrises, to immigrate to North America when she is ten years old. She lives in the United States and Canada, where she attends and later teaches in a Roman Catholic normal school in Toronto. In the United States she teaches in a convent school in Monroe, Michigan and works as a seamstress. In 1861 she marries George Jones, an iron-moulder and labour union member in Memphis, Tennessee. After the death of her husband and their four children in a yellow fever epidemic in 1867, she relocates to Chicago, Illinois, where she becomes involved with an early industrial union, the Knights of Labor. Her seamstress shop is destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

In the 1890s Jones becomes known as ‘Mother’ Jones and begins a long association with socialist causes and the United Mine Workers of America. She attends the founding convention of Social Democracy of America, later known as the Cooperative Brotherhood, in 1897 and in the same year organises support and publicity for striking bituminous coal miners in West Virginia, including a children’s march and parades of farmers delivering food to the miners’ camp. These types of defiant mass action become her trademark. Notable activities include organising women in support of an 1899 anthracite coal strike in eastern Pennsylvania, directing strikes of young women working in textile mills, a 1903 ‘children’s crusade’ against child labour which includes a ninety-mile march from Philadelphia to New York City, participating in 1905 in the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical labour union committed to the organisation of unskilled workers, campaigning for the release of Mexican revolutionaries imprisoned in American jails, and testifying in 1915 in congressional hearings against the abuse of corporate power by Rockefeller interests.

Jones reportedly meets with James Connolly, Irish socialist and labour organiser, in New York City in 1910. She is arrested for the first time for violating a federal injunction during a miners’ strike in West Virginia in 1902. In 1904, during a Colorado miners’ campaign, she has to avoid the authorities to escape possible deportation. During a 1914 strike in Ludlow, Colorado, she is imprisoned without trial for nine weeks. In 1919 she is arrested in Pennsylvania during a steelworkers’ strike for defending freedom of speech and the right of workers to organise unions. She remains active in the labour movement and radical causes into her nineties.

During her later years, Jones lives with her friends Walter and Lillie May Burgess on their farm in what is now Adelphi, Maryland. She celebrates her self-proclaimed 100th birthday there on May 1, 1930 and is filmed making a statement for a newsreel.

Jones dies on November 30, 1930 at the Burgess farm then in Silver Spring, Maryland, though now part of Adelphi. There is a funeral Mass at St. Gabriel’s in Washington, D.C. She is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, alongside miners who died in the 1898 Battle of Virden.

In 1932, about 15,000 Illinois mine workers gather in Mount Olive to protest against the United Mine Workers, which soon becomes the Progressive Mine Workers of America. Convinced that they have acted in the spirit of Mother Jones, the miners decide to place a proper headstone on her grave. By 1936, the miners have saved up more than $16,000 and are able to purchase “eighty tons of Minnesota pink granite, with bronze statues of two miners flanking a twenty-foot shaft featuring a bas-relief of Mother Jones at its center.” On October 11, 1936, also known as Miners’ Day, an estimated 50,000 people arrive at Mother Jones’s grave to see the new gravestone and memorial. Since then, October 11 is not only known as Miners’ Day but is also referred to and celebrated in Mount Olive as “Mother Jones’s Day.”

The farm where she died begins to advertise itself as the “Mother Jones Rest Home” in 1932, before being sold to a Baptist church in 1956. The site is now marked with a Maryland Historical Trust marker, and a nearby elementary school is named in her honor.


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Death of Suzanne R. Day, Feminist, Novelist & Playwright

Suzanne Rouviere Day, Irish feminist, novelist and playwright, dies in London on May 26, 1964. She founds the Munster Women’s Franchise League, is one of Cork‘s first women poor law guardians and serves a support role in both World Wars.

Day is born in Cork, County Cork, on April 24, 1876 to Robert and Rebecca Day. Her father runs a saddler and ironmonger business and is a well known antiquarian and photographer.

In 1910 Day forms the local Irish Women’s Franchise League branch in Cork as an activist group for women’s suffrage. The following year she leaves that group and founds the non-militant Munster Women’s Franchise League. Her new interest in politics leads to her winning the election of poor law guardians the same year. Her later writings reveal that she sees the Cork workhouses as an expensive self-perpetuating evil run by amateurs. This leads to her first novel, The Amazing Philanthropists (1916). From 1913 to 1917 she writes three plays for the Abbey Theatre in collaboration with Geraldine Cummins, Broken Faith (1913), The Way of the World (1914), and Fox and Geese (1917), which is the most successful of the three.

The Battle of Verdun lasts most of 1916 and during that time Day is amongst a group from the Society of Friends who cares for the wounded. She is in France for fifteen months and uses the experience to create her 1918 book Round about Bar-le-Duc. Where the Mistral Blows is published in 1933 and describes her time in Provence in France.

Day works as a member of the fire service in London during World War II. She lives in Cork, France and London. At the time of her death she is living at 47 Argyle Road, Kensington, London. She dies in the Cromer and District Hospital on May 26, 1964.

The work of Suzanne Rouviere Day and Geraldine Cummins has been described as a mixture of paganism and melodrama and has been suggested as a precursor to John B. Keane.

(Pictured: Suzanne R. Day in the cast of the 1901 production of The Mikado, Cork, County Cork)


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Birth of Teresa Kearney, Teacher, Franciscan Sister & Missionary

Teresa Kearney, better known as Mother Kevin, a teacher, Franciscan Sister, and missionary who founds a new Franciscan order, is born in Knockenrahan, Arklow, County Wicklow, on April 28, 1875.

Kearney is the third daughter of farmer Michael Kearney and Teresa Kearney. Three months prior to her birth, her father dies in an accident. Following his death, her mother remarries and has three more children. When she is ten years old, her mother dies. Her maternal grandmother, Grannie Grenell, then raises her in Curranstown, County Wicklow. Grannie Grenell has a profound impact on her spiritual beliefs and deep faith. When she is 17, Grannie Grenell dies.

Kearney attends the local convent school in Arklow following her mother’s death. In 1889, following her grandmother’s death, she goes to convent of Mercy at Rathdrum, to train as an assistant teacher. She does not have the finances to pay for training, and becomes a Junior Assistant Mistress. A year later, she goes to teach in a school run by the Sisters of Charity in Essex.

Following the death of her grandmother, Kearney turns toward thoughts of religious life. She believes that God is calling her to be a sister, and she applies for admission to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Five Wounds at Mill Hill, London. In 1895, she enters the St. Mary’s Abbey, Mill Hill. On April 21, 1898 she takes the name Sister Mary Kevin of the Sacred Passion. Her motto is “For Thee, Lord.” She volunteers to work with African Americans in London. She waits three years for a posting to the American mission, but when the call from a foreign mission comes, it comes from Africa.

On December 3, 1902, Kearney and five other sisters leave London for Nsambya, Uganda. They are chosen at the request of Bishop Henry Hanlon of the Mill Hill Fathers. The sisters arrive on January 15, 1903 and establish a dispensary and school in the Buganda. Their task is to care for the women and girls and to further weaken the association of Catholicism with French missionaries and Protestantism with British missionaries in the then British Protectorate. Among the sisters are three Irish, one American, one English, and one Scottish woman.

Kearney starts her first clinic under a mango tree near the convent. The first seven years of missionary work are tough for the sisters. Various diseases, from smallpox to malaria, ravage Buganda. The infant mortality rate is also relatively high due to the high frequency of maternal deaths. In 1906, she expands the missionary and sets up a hospital in Nagalama, twenty-three miles away. She is appointed the new superior of the convent following Sister Paul’s illness and return to the United States in 1910. In 1913, three more sisters arrive, which allows her to establish a third mission station in Kamuli, Busoga. All three stations focus on medicine and education for the local population with a focus on primary and secondary education, training of nurses, and the founding of clinics, hospitals and orphanages.

During World War I, the Nsambya Hospital is used to treat the Native Carrier Corp, porters for European troops. At times, Kearney is outraged by the treatment Europeans give to the African porters. She works to uphold the rights of African people caught up in the European war. On December 25, 1918 she is awarded the Member of Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to the wounded during the war years.

Kearney is credited for promoting higher education in Catholic African women in her mission. In 1923, she founds the Little Sisters of St. Francis, a community of African nuns for teaching and nursing. This program starts with only eight local girls. A year later, she and Dr. Evelyn Connolly, a lay missionary, found a nursing and midwifery school in Nsambya. Their goal is to promote the education of women throughout Uganda.

In September 1928, Kearney returns to England to establish a novitiate exclusively for training sisters for African missions. The novitiate is officially opened in 1929 in Holme Hall, Yorkshire. Many women from England, Scotland and Ireland travel to Holme Hall to assist the missionary efforts. This creates a shortage for the Mill Hill Fathers, who also need sisters for their school in England and American missions. Upon realization of this divide, Kearney and the Mill Hill Fathers break off from each other. On June 9, 1952 she founds the new congregation of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa. She is appointed the first superior general. Mount Oliver, Dundalk, becomes the motherhouse for this new congregation. With the formation of the FMSA, she expands the missionary work to Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, the United States, Scotland, and South Africa.

Kearney retires in 1955 at age 80. During retirement, she is appointed Superior of a convent in Boston, Massachusetts and raises funds for African projects. She travels and talks to donors to garner support for projects in Africa.

On October 17, 1957, Kearney dies at the age of 82 in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her remains are flown to Ireland and buried at Mount Oliver. Ugandan Catholics rally to have her body flown to Uganda to be buried. On December 3, 1957, her body is buried in the cemetery at Nkokonjeru, the motherhouse of the Little Sisters of St. Francis.

Kearney’s legacy is evident today. In Uganda, the word Kevina means “hospital” or “charitable institute.” The Mother Kevin Postgraduate Medical School is named after her. The Little Sisters of St. Francis has over 500 members throughout Africa, while the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa currently works in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.


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Birth of Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic Missionary

Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic missionary of the Spiritan Fathers order, is born on April 26, 1932, in Limerick, County Limerick. He organizes food shipments from Ireland to the Igbo people during the Nigerian Civil War. His younger brother, Jack Finucane, also becomes a Holy Ghost priest, and a sister of theirs becomes a nun.

Finucane is educated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers until 1950. He joins the Holy Ghost Fathers in Kimmage Manor, and studies Philosophy, Theology and Education at University College Dublin. He is ordained in Clonliffe College in 1958.

Finucane contributes humanitarian aid during the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the “Nigerian-Biafran War”), from 1967 to 1970. The Nigerian government had blocked food supplies to the successionist state of Biafra causing starvation in the country. This is reported on international television stations and receives worldwide condemnation.

In an effort to save the population from starvation, Finucane organizes food to be sent through makeshift airstrips, including one at Uli, Bafaria, and cargo trips with other Dublin-based workers. This leads to the formation of the organisation Concern Worldwide in 1968. He works with Concern for 41 years and views his mission as “love in action.”

Finucane is banished from Nigeria in January 1970. Following this, he gains a diploma in development studies and a Master of Arts degree in Third World poverty studies from the Swansea University. In 1971, he is again giving food supplies to the population during the operations which are ongoing in Bangladesh and flies often with Mother Teresa during the drop-offs.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) invites Finucane to lead a survey of people displaced in Southeast Asia. During the 1980s and 1990s he leads Concern Worldwide, becoming involved in the response to famine in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. While in Somalia, he is in a convoy that is attacked and results in the death of nurse Valerie Place.

Finucane dies of cancer at the age of 77 on October 6, 2009 in a Dublin Spiritan Fathers’ nursing home in Kimmage Manor. His funeral is held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Kimmage and is attended by hundreds. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, and Minister for Overseas Development, Peter Power, dub him as a “tireless force for good across the globe for more than four decades.” He is buried at Dardistown Cemetery, in the Spiritan plot.

Finucane’s biography, Aengus Finucane: In the Heart of Concern, written by Deirdre Purcell is published by New Island Books in January 2015.


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Bono Named Europe’s Greatest Hero of 2003 by “Time” Magazine

On April 19, 2003, Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, surpasses competition from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to become Europe’s greatest hero. Already laden down with similar honours, he is picked by online voters from a list of 36 other Europeans compiled by the prestigious Time magazine.

Bono’s work for the starving starts with Band Aid in 1984 but develops over the years into a crusade lobbying world leaders and trying to reduce Third World debt.

Able to open any door from the Vatican to the White House, Bono in 2003 alone is nominated for a second successive Nobel Peace Prize, receives the French Legion of Honour and an international humanitarian award from the American Ireland Fund.

“There are potentially another ten Afghanistans in Africa and it is cheaper by a factor of 100 to prevent the fires from happening than to put them out. Look, I know how absurd it is to have a rock star talk about debt relief or HIV/AIDS in Africa. But if not me, who?” Bono says.

Caoimhe Butterly, a 24-year-old from Dublin, is also nominated by Time editors for her role as a peace activist, which resulted in her being shot at by Israeli troops. “I don’t really think the concept of heroes is helpful, but if my inclusion helps highlight the cause of people struggling against oppression, then it’s of some good,” Butterly says. She expects to go to Iraq in the near future “to further the struggle against oppression.”

The third Irish person on the list is 58-year-old Christina Noble whose torrid childhood leads her to work on behalf of impoverished street children in Asia. She survives tuberculosis, hunger, homelessness, beatings, molestation by relatives, institutionalisation and a gang rape. She starts her foundation‘s work in Vietnam in 1989 and Mongolia in 1997.

In Vietnam, where she is known fondly as Mama Tina, her foundation has 50 projects providing education, food and clean water for children. “We’re tools. We help a little. You don’t need brains or brawn to do that. You just need the heart of a survivor,” Noble says.

Others nominated include footballers David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, former The Who singer Roger Daltrey, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling.

All 36 nominees are honoured at a ceremony in London on May 21, 2003.

(From: “Debt crusader Bono named greatest European hero” be Sean O’Riordan, Irish Examiner, http://www.irishexaminer.com, April 21, 2003)


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Birth of Margaret (May) Tennant, Promoter of Workers’ Rights & Public Health

Margaret Mary Edith (May) Tennant (née Abraham), promoter of workers’ rights and public health, is born April 5, 1869 at Rathgar, County Dublin, the only daughter of Dr. George Whitley Abraham, a lawyer in the civil service, and his wife, Margaret, daughter of Cornelius Curtain.

Abraham is educated at home by her father. Following his death in 1887, finding herself in financial straits, she moves to London, where she takes lodgings in Bloomsbury and works for Lady Emilia Dilke. Dilke is a social reformer and an advocate of trade unions for women, and as her secretary Margaret gains first-hand experience of the exploitative and unsanitary conditions afflicting women working in industry, a cause that she devotes the next decade to ameliorating. She is treasurer of the Womens’ Trade Union League, where she negotiates with employers on behalf of league members, organises meetings, and sends deputations to the House of Commons. From 1881 she coordinates a successful campaign to render regular government inspections of laundries mandatory (legislation is passed to this effect in 1908).

Abraham’s dedication to her work soon attracts wider recognition, and in 1891 she is appointed an assistant commissioner to undertake field inquiries for the Royal Labour Commission. In this capacity she travels incessantly throughout England and Ireland, gathering information and writing reports on often appalling working conditions. It is mainly because of this work that in 1893 the home secretary appoints her the first female factory inspector in England. Her new position marks a career shift from agitator to skillful and effective administrator. Traveling incessantly, the inspectors target illegal overtime, poor sanitation, and dangerous trades. In her first year alone she brings eighty prosecutions for illegal overtime.

In 1895 Abraham serves on a departmental committee at the Home Office on dangerous trades, where she meets Harold John Tennant, liberal MP for Berwickshire. The couple are married the following year, and have four sons and one daughter.

By 1896 Tennant is the superintending inspector of five more women inspectors, and her extensive experience in workers’ rights and public health is reflected in the book she publishes in that year, The law relating to factories and workshops, which runs to six editions. She finds it increasingly difficult to balance the pressures of her work with the demands of her private life, and she resigns her post soon after her marriage. However, she remains a committed social activist, serving as chairman of the Industrial Law Committee and on the Royal Commission on Divorce (1909). She is also an original member and treasurer of the Central Committee on Women’s Employment (1914–39).

During the World War I Tennant is chief adviser on women’s welfare to the Ministry of Munitions and director of the Women’s Department of the National Service Department. In recognition of her services the British government awards her the Companion of Honour in 1917, the same year that her eldest son, Harry, dies while on active service. Between the wars she turns her attention to women’s health, campaigning to improve maternal mortality and nursing care.

During the World War II, despite her failing health, Tennant works for the RAF Benevolent Fund. She is a member of the Central Consultative Council of Voluntary Organisations and the National Association for Prevention of Tuberculosis, chairman of the maternal health committee, governor of Bedford College, and a JP. She is also a director of the Mysore and Champion Reef Gold Mines, an enterprise of her husband’s family, and in this capacity travels to India and New Zealand in the mid-1920s.

The Tennants have homes in Edinglasserie, Aberdeenshire, and at 12 Victoria Square, London, as well as a restored country house, Great Maytham, at Rolvenden in Kent. She is a noted authority on gardening, and is director of The Gardener’s Chronicle (other interests included fishing, tennis, and gambling). After her husband’s death in 1935 she moves to a smaller house named Cornhill at Great Maytham, where she dies on July 11, 1946. Some of her correspondence is in the British Library, London.

(From: “Tennant (née Abraham), Margaret Mary Edith (May),” contributed by Sinéad Sturgeon and Georgina Clinton, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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People’s Democracy March Ambush at Burntollet Bridge

On January 4, 1969, during the first stages of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the civil rights group People’s Democracy is attacked at Burntollet Bridge on the final day of a four-day march from Belfast to Derry by 200 loyalists and off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles.

The People’s Democracy organizes the four-day march from Belfast to Derry, starting on January 1, 1969. The march is to be the acid test of the government’s intentions. Either the government will face up to the extreme right of its own Unionist Party and protect the march from the ‘harassing and hindering,’ or it will be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster will be forced to intervene, re-opening the whole Irish question for the first time in 50 years. The march is modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s Deep South and forced the United States government into major reforms.

The departure on New Year’s Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy supporters on the march to Derry is marked by a protest in Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It is the loyalist’s intention to harass the march along its entire journey.

On the first day of the march, the group makes its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim the marchers run into a police barricade, behind which several hundred loyalists are gathered, led by Major Bunting. The RUC refuses to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and minor scuffles, the marchers are driven in police tenders to Whitehall Community Centre where they spend an unsettled night interrupted by a bomb threat.

The next day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again find their way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once again the RUC refuses to remove the loyalist protesters and the marchers are eventually transported to Toome by car. The marchers are welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march is again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village of Knockloughlin. After two miles, loyalist protestors led by Major Bunting again halt the march. Another stand off ensues and, as locals gather to support the marchers, the RUC’s County Inspector Kerr asks the loyalists to stand aside, which they do. The marchers then make their way towards Maghera, where loyalists have gathered to await their arrival. On hearing of this ‘reception’ committee, which is armed with clubs and sticks, the marchers decide to bypass the village and spend the night at Bracaghreilly. That night Maghera witnesses considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.

On January 3, the third day of the march, the marchers set out for Dungiven and encounter little opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travel on to Feeny. A mile outside Dungiven the marchers are halted by the RUC with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A civil rights supporter then arrives along the road that is allegedly blocked and reports no obstructions ahead. The marchers decide to breach police lines and encounter no protest ahead. After reaching Feeny the marchers move on to Claudy, where they receive a friendly reception and settle down for the night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall in which the marchers are staying is repulsed by locals.

The same night in Derry, a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall leads to serious disorder. While those inside the hall are listening to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at Burntollet, a crowd of nationalists gather outside the building in protest. During clashes as the rally disperses, Major Bunting’s car is destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and stones are left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.

On the morning of January 4, the marchers, who now number approximately 500, set out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before reaching Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stops the march in order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. Harrison, together with County Inspector Kerr, speak of 50 loyalists ahead and claim to be confident that there is no danger. With the RUC leading the way the marchers advance. In the field overlooking the road the marchers observe approximately 300 loyalists, identified by white armbands and armed with cudgels. They come under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers seek to escape the bombardment by speeding up the road but there is to be no escape as they immediately encounter a second contingent of loyalists blocking their escape.

As many marchers flee into the fields they are pursued by attackers and the RUC makes no attempt to intervene. Others are thrown into the nearby River Faughan. As what is left of the marchers continue on to Derry, they are also attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.

That night clashes occur between the RUC and local people and the first “Free Derry” is born. At 2:00 AM members of the RUC attack the Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Road and St. Columbs Wells districts. Windows are broken, residents are assaulted and sectarian abuse is directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction to this ‘invasion’ ranges from the painting of the Free Derry legend to the formation of vigilante squads in the area, based at the Foyle Harps Hall in the Brandywell and Rossville Hall in the Bogside. The barricades remain up for a number of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and the RUC, which has never been particularly good, grows steadily worse.

These events, together with the steady increase of conflict between local youths and the RUC as the year progress, is to lay the foundations for the resistance that is to take place during the Battle of the Bogside.

(From: “People’s Democracy march, January 4, 1969” by Jude Collins, http://www.judecollins.com, January 4, 2016)


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Sinn Féin Holds First Formal Talks with the British Government in Over 70 Years

On December 9, 1994, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), holds its first formal talks with the British Government in over 70 years. The negotiations take place in Belfast, almost one year after Britain and Ireland began an uncertain program to try to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. The first session is held at Stormont, a gigantic, columned edifice on top of a hill on the outskirts of Belfast that houses the old Northern Ireland parliament.

Although the announcement of the negotiations is not a surprise, it still sets off an exciting ripple that history is in the making. British officials have conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders in the past, but never before have they sat down openly at the same table with them.

In both a letter to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, and in a three-paragraph statement, Downing Street pointedly refers to the meeting as “exploratory dialogue.” This is in keeping with London‘s position that it is simply joining in “talks about talks,” not a full negotiating session, which must involve all parties to the conflict.

For 25 years the IRA has been fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic minority of 650,000 in Northern Ireland. It wants to link Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland that remain British after partition, to the Irish Republic, a move opposed by most of the province’s 950,000 Protestants.

The announcement of talks evoke a predictable pattern of responses across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. Adams, who works to persuade the IRA to go along with a unilateral cease-fire that was declared on September 1, welcomes it. “The opportunity to realize a lasting peace, which will benefit all of the people of Ireland, has never been greater,” he says in a statement. Adams had been accusing London of foot-dragging on the peace effort. Now, he says, it is time to move on to “the next phase of dialogue — multilateral talks led by both Governments.”

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main Protestant political group in Northern Ireland, is skeptically accepting, as it has been all along. John Taylor, a Unionist Member of Parliament, says the talks will at least establish whether “Sinn Féin really is to become a normal political party.”

The Rev. Ian Paisley, a Member of Parliament whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become a rejectionist front, continues to oppose talks or any move smacking of compromise. He tells the House of Commons that “a vast majority of people” resent the decision to talk to “the men of blood.”

Sinn Féin is represented at the talks by Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA political leader who took part in secret contacts that broke up the previous year. In 1972, together with Adams, he was flown to London for a meeting with William Whitelaw, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Those talks eventually failed.

Adams is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, December 7. He attends a meeting at the White House, his first one there, with Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Advisor. Seven weeks earlier, Britain protests vigorously at the thought of Adams visiting the White House. But events moved so swiftly that he gains a kind of legitimacy that is hard for Whitehall to deny. His visa to the United States, good for three months, allows several visits.

The Government team of civil servants, in contrast to higher-level ministers, are led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary of the British administration called the Northern Ireland Office.

Going into the negotiations, the key question is what will be discussed. On the British side, the top of the agenda is how to get the IRA to turn over its considerable stash of 100 tons of arms and explosives. There is nothing, of course, that Sinn Féin is less likely to agree to at the outset. So should the British make this a condition for multilateral talks to begin, the two sides will meet an obstacle right away.

McGuinness says that the issue of IRA weapons has to be considered “in the context of us removing the causes of conflict, the reason why people use armed force in our society.”

From its side, Adams says Sinn Féin wants to discuss being treated with “a parity of esteem” with the other parties, and “the release of all political prisoners.”

The British Government says that it will soon hold talks with the so-called loyalist paramilitaries on the Protestant side. And it indicates it will have no objection if elected Sinn Féin councillors attend a major international investment conference in Belfast on December 13 and 14.

(From: “Britain and I.R.A. Group to Begin Talks in Northern Ireland” by John Darnton, The New York Times, December 2, 1994 | Pictured: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lead a Republican parade in Belfast, commemorating 25 years of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1994)