seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Closing of Ellis Island

Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors on November 12, 1954, after processing more than 12 million immigrants, including an estimated two million Irish, since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.

On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from County Cork, becomes the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designates as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Prior to the opening of Ellis Island the processing of immigrants has been handled by individual states.

Not all immigrants who sail into New York have to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submit to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they pass through customs. People in third class, though, are transported to Ellis Island, where they undergo medical and legal inspections to ensure they do not have a contagious disease or some condition that might make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants are denied entrance into the United States.

Immigration to Ellis Island peaks between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island is enlarged with landfill and additional buildings are constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people are processed at Ellis Island.

With the United States’ entrance into World War I, immigration declines and Ellis Island is used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passes quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduces the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enables immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switches from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, is released and Ellis Island officially closes.

Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island undergoes a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opens to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people every year.

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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Death of Confederate General Joseph Finegan

Joseph Finegan, Irish-born American businessman and brigadier general for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, dies on October 29, 1885, in Rutledge, Florida.

Finegan is born November 17, 1814 at Clones, County Monaghan. He comes to Florida in the 1830s, first establishing a sawmill at Jacksonville and later a law practice at Fernandina Beach. At the latter place, he becomes the business partner of David Levy Yulee and begins construction of the Florida Railroad to speed transportation of goods and people from the new state’s east coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Finegan has built his family a forty-room mansion in Fernandina Beach at the site of the modern Atlantic Elementary School. At Florida’s secession convention, Finegan represents Nassau County alongside James Graham Cooper.

In April 1862, Finegan assumes command of Middle and East Florida from Brigadier General James H. Trapier. Soon thereafter, he suffers some embarrassment surrounding the wreck of the blockade runner Kate at Mosquito Inlet. Her cargo of rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, blankets, and shoes is plundered by civilians. Eventually, most of the rifles are found, but the other supplies are never recovered.

In 1863, Finegan complains of the large quantity of rum making its way from the West Indies into Florida. Smugglers are buying it in Cuba for a mere seventeen cents per gallon, only to sell it in the blockaded state for twenty-five dollars per gallon. He urges Governor John Milton to confiscate the “vile article” and destroy it before it can impact army and civilian morals.

In February 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard begins rushing reinforcements to Finegan after Confederate officials become aware of a build-up of Federal troops in the occupied city of Jacksonville. As Florida is a vital supply route and source of beef to the other southern states, they can not allow it to fall completely into Union hands.

On February 20, 1864, Finegan stops a Federal advance from Jacksonville under General Truman Seymour that is intent upon capturing the state capitol at Tallahassee. Their two armies clash at the Battle of Olustee, where Finegan’s men defeat the Union Army and force them to flee back beyond the St. Johns River. Critics have faulted Finegan for failing to exploit his victory by pursuing his retreating enemy, contenting himself by salvaging their arms and ammunition from the battlefield. However, his victory is one rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the dying Confederacy.

Finegan is relieved of his command over the state troops and replaced by Major General James Patton Anderson. This change in command is necessary as Finegan is ordered to lead the “Florida Brigade” in the Army of Northern Virginia, where he serves effectively until near the end of the war.

Finegan returns to Fernandina Beach after the war to discover his mansion has been seized by the Freedmen’s Bureau for use as an orphanage and school for black children. It took some legal wrangling, but he is eventually able to recover the property. The untimely death of his son Rutledge on April 4, 1871, precipitates a move to Savannah, Georgia. There, Finegan feels at home with the large Irish population and works as a cotton broker.

It is while living in Savannah that Finegan marries his second wife, the widow Lucy C. Alexander, a Tennessee belle. They eventually settle on a large orange grove in Orange County, Florida. Finegan dies on October 29, 1885, at Rutledge, Florida. According to The Florida Times-Union, his death is the result of “severe cold, inducing chills, to which he succumbed after brief illness.” He is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville.


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Birth of Brigadier General James Lawlor Kiernan

James Lawlor Kiernan, Irish-born Brigadier General in the American Civil War, is born in Mountbellew, County Galway, on October 26, 1837.

Kiernan’s father is a retired British navy surgeon. Kiernan attends Trinity College, Dublin, before emigrating to the United States around 1854. He studies medicine at New York University and practices law in New York until 1861. Upon the outbreak of American Civil War in 1861 he joins the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment as Assistant Surgeon and serves as such through the First Battle of Bull Run. When the 69th returns to Manhattan, he moves west and becomes the surgeon of the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Kiernan insists on joining the fighting ranks, and in that capacity is seemingly appointed a Major in the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. In May 1863 at Port Gibson, Mississippi, he is wounded in the left lung and left on the battlefield for dead. Recovered and imprisoned, he effects an escape back to Union forces and resigns his commission. On August 1, 1863 he is commissioned a Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers by President Abraham Lincoln, commanding a post at Miliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River. However, ill-health as a result of his battlefield wounds force him to resign on February 3, 1864.

In May 1865 Kiernan gains a U.S. consular post at Chinkiang, China. He manages to make the trip there but his health does not allow him to perform the duties. He returns to New York where he becomes an examining physician for the Bureau of Pensions, a position he holds until his death.

James Lawlor Kiernan dies on November 26, 1869. The official cause of death is “congestion of the lungs.” Perhaps he is killed by that Confederate ball that wounded him six years earlier. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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Laying of the Cornerstone for the White House

The cornerstone is laid for the White House in the newly designated capital city of Washington, D.C., on October 13, 1792. Earlier in the year, work begins on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish American architect James Hoban, whose design is influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James GibbsA Book of Architecture.

Hoban is an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan, County Kilkenny. He works there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he is given an “advanced student” place in the Dublin Society‘s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studies under Thomas Ivory. He excels in his studies and receives the prestigious Duke of Leinster‘s medal from the Dublin Society for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs” in 1780. Later, Hoban finds a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban emigrates to the United States, and establishes himself as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1785.

Hoban is in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designs numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse. President George Washington admires Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour and summons the architect to Philadelphia, the temporary national capital, in June 1792.

In July 1792, Hoban is named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across, much like the Charleston courthouse. Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amends this to a 2-story facade, eleven bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion is faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.

In 1800, President John Adams becomes the first president to reside in the executive mansion, which soon becomes known as the “White House” because its white-gray Virginia freestone contrasts strikingly with the red brick of nearby buildings.


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Death of John Barry, Father of the American Navy

John Barry, an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy, dies on September 13, 1803 in present day Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He comes to be widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” a moniker he shares with John Paul Jones and John Adams, and is appointed a captain in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775. He is the first captain placed in command of a U.S. warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag.

After the war, Barry becomes the first commissioned U.S. naval officer, at the rank of commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797.

Barry is born on March 25, 1745, in Tacumshane, County Wexford. When his family is evicted from their home by their British landlord, they move to Rosslare on the coast, where his uncle works a fishing skiff. As a young man, Barry determines upon a life as a seaman and he starts out as a ship’s cabin boy.

Barry receives his first captain’s commission in the Continental Navy on March 14, 1776, signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Barry is a religious man and begins each day at sea with a reading from the Bible. He has great regard for his crew and their well being and always makes sure they are properly provisioned while at sea.
During his naval career Barry commands the USS Delaware, USS Lexington, USS Raleigh, and USS Alliance.

On February 22, 1797, he is issued Commission Number 1 by President George Washington, backdated to June 4, 1794. His title is thereafter “commodore.” He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer but also as its first flag officer.

Appointed senior captain upon the establishment of the U.S. Navy, he commands the frigate USS United States in the Quasi-War with the French Republic. This ship transports commissioners William Richardson Davie and Oliver Ellsworth to France to negotiate a new Franco-American alliance.

Barry’s last day of active duty is March 6, 1801, when he brings USS United States into port, but he remains head of the Navy until his death.

Barry dies of asthma on September 13, 1803, at Strawberry Hill, in present-day Philadelphia, and is buried in the graveyard of Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Center City, Philadelphia.

(Pictured: Portrait of Commodore John Barry, US Navy, by V. Zveg, 1972, from the 1801 portrait by Gilbert Stuart.)


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Death of John McElroy, Founder of Boston College

Death of Jesuit John McElroy, the founder of Boston College, at age of 95 in Frederick, Maryland, on September 12, 1877.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1782 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the younger of two sons. In the hopes of providing a better life for John and his brother Anthony, their father, a farmer, finances their travel to the United States. In 1803 the two young men board a ship leaving the port of Londonderry and arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 26. McElroy eventually settles in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and becomes a merchant.

In 1806, McElroy enters Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., the same year he enters the novitiate of the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He eventually manages the finances of Georgetown College and in 1808 erects the tower building. He managed the school’s finances so well that through the period of economic hardship following the War of 1812, he is able to send several Jesuits to Rome to study.

McElroy is ordained in May 1817, after less than two years of preparation. As a new priest, he is assigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown as an assistant pastor. In his short time at Trinity, he contributes to the growth of the congregation and enlarging of the church building. This is achieved by increasing the monthly subscription for congregation members from 12½ cents to $12.50 on July 3, 1819. The following day he travels to most of the congregation members’ homes and collects $2,000 in pledges. He immediately sets to work having the Church modified to include two lateral-wing chapels, which are first used on October 3, 1819.

On January 11, 1819, McElroy is granted United States citizenship. Also in 1819, McElroy starts a Sunday School for black children who are taught prayers and catechism simultaneously with spelling and reading, by volunteer members of the congregation. McElroy spends his remaining years in Georgetown teaching the lower grades.

In 1823, McElroy begins negotiations with the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for the establishment of a school for girls in Frederick. In 1824, the St. John’s Benevolent Female Free School is founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph at 200 East Second Street in Frederick. In 1825, McElroy sets to work replacing the pre-American Revolution log cabin that houses the school with a modern building large enough to also house an orphanage.

McElroy’s next task is to found an educational institution for boys. On August 7, 1828, the construction of St. John’s Literary Institute begins. The following year the construction is completed and the school is opened, a school which is currently operating under the name of Saint John’s Catholic Prep.

In October 1847, McElroy is welcomed in Boston, Massachusetts, by the Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the North End. Bishop Fitzpatrick sets McElroy to work on bringing a college to Boston.

In 1853, McElroy finds a property in the South End where the city jail once stood. After two years of negotiations the project falls through due to zoning issues. A new site is identified and city officials endorse the sale. In 1858, Bishop Fitzpatrick and Father McElroy break ground for Boston College, and for the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Classes began in the fall of 1864, and continue at this location until 1913 when the college moves to its current location at Chestnut Hill. Initially Boston College offers a 7-year program including both high school and college. This joint program continues until 1927 when the high school is separately incorporated.

In 1868, McElroy retires to the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. He visits Georgetown for the final time in 1872 to celebrate his golden jubilee. His eyesight is failing and while moving through his home he falls, fracturing his femur, which eventually leads to his death. Father John McElroy dies September 12, 1877 at the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. For some years leading up to his death, he is regarded as the oldest priest in the United States and the oldest Jesuit in the world. He is buried in the Novitiate Cemetery. In 1903, the Jesuits withdraw from Frederick and the graves are moved from the Frederick Jesuit Novitiate Cemetery to St. John’s Cemetery.