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


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Founding of the Irish Emigrant Society

An illustration from The Weekly Herald, 1845.The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in New York City on March 22, 1841.

The Irish and other emigrants face numerous abuses such as “illusive advertisements,” “crooked contractors,” “dishonest prospectuses” and “remittent sharpers” when they arrive in the United States. The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in 1841 by a group of New York Irish to combat issues such as these.

In December 1848 the Emigrant Society advises emigrants that as soon as their ship comes into harbour she will be boarded by an agent of the Society who will offer them sound and honest advice. In addition they warn that the ship will also be boarded by a large number of “runners” – conmen who will make it their business to attract them to the boarding houses that employ them. Emigrants are instructed be careful not to accept help from them as their ploy is to promise good quality board at low prices, but when they come to leave the house an exorbitant fee will be demanded. They will threaten not to hand over luggage unless this fee is paid and violent scenes might often ensue.

The Society warns that many persons, some of Irish birth, have set up offices in the city where they claim to be agents for railroad and steamboat enterprises. These crooks sell tickets which appear to entitle the holder to travel to specific destinations but which are worthless. To protect emigrants from such frauds, various measures are introduced in New York in 1848 including the construction of reception centres and the licensing of steam boats to take emigrants from the quarantine to the landing piers. Boarding houses are also required to display their prices in English, Dutch, German, Welsh and French.

Emigrants who survive the ordeal of the crossing are faced with the decision of where to settle in America. Newspapers carry advertisements singing the praises of the land and climate of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan but never mention the backbreaking work of clearing the land for farming. California also proves to be a very popular destination when news of the California Gold Rush breaks in 1849. It also provides opportunities on the lands that the Native Americans have deserted in search of gold.

(From: “1841 – The Irish Emigrant Society Is Founded In New York,” Stair na hÉireann, https://stairnaheireann.net

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Death of William R. Grace, Irish American Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Russell_Grace.jpgWilliam Russell Grace, Irish American politician, the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City, and the founder of W. R. Grace and Company, dies in New York City on March 21, 1904.

Grace is born on May 10, 1832 in Ireland in Riverstown near the Cove of Cork to James Grace and Eleanor May Russell (née Ellen) while the family is away from home. He is raised on Grace property at Ballylinan in Queens County, now County Laois, near the town of Athy. He is a member of a prominent and well-to-do family. In 1846, he sails for New York against the wishes of his father, and works as a printer’s devil and a shoemaker’s helper before returning to Ireland in 1848.

His nephew, Cecil Grace, attempts a crossing of the English Channel in December 1910 in an airplane, flying from Dover to Calais. However, in coming back he becomes disoriented and over Dover flies northeast over the Goodwin Sands toward the North Sea and is lost.

Grace and his father travel to Callao, Peru, in 1851, seeking to establish an Irish agricultural community. While his father returns home, William remains and begins work with the firm of John Bryce and Co., as a ship chandler. In 1854, the company is renamed Bryce, Grace & Company, in 1865, to Grace Brothers & Co., and ultimately to W. R. Grace and Company.

On September 11, 1859, Grace is married to Lillius Gilchrist, the daughter of George W. Gilchrist, a prominent ship builder of Thomaston, Maine, and Mary Jane (née Smalley) Gilchrest. Together, they have eleven children.

Opposing the famous Tammany Hall, Grace is elected as the first Irish American Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880. He conducts a reform administration attacking police scandals, patronage and organized vice, reduces the tax rate, and breaks up the Louisiana State Lottery Company. Defeated in the following election, he is re-elected in 1884 on an Independent ticket but loses again at the following election. During his second term, he receives the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France.

Grace is a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian, at one point contributing a quarter of the aid delivered to Ireland aboard the steamship Constellation during the Irish Famine of 1879. In 1897, he and his brother, Michael, found the Grace Institute for the education of women, especially immigrants.

William R. Grace dies on March 21, 1904 at his residence, 31 East 79th Street, in New York City. His funeral is held at St. Francis Xavier Church on West 16th Street and he is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. At the time of his death his estate is valued at $25,000,000.


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Birth of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

patrick-ronayne-cleburnePatrick Ronayne Cleburne, called the “Stonewall of the West” and one of the finest generals produced by either side during the American Civil War is born on March 17, 1828 at Bride Park Cottage in Ovens, County Cork, just outside Cork City.

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, this native Irishman is nevertheless extremely loyal to his adopted country, saying, “if this [Confederacy] that is so dear to my heart is doomed to fail, I pray heaven may let me fall with it, while my face is toward the enemy and my arm battling for that which I know to be right.” Sadly, Cleburne ultimately receives his wish.

Cleburne begins his military career in an unlikely manner. When he fails the entrance exam at Trinity College, Dublin, he cannot face his family. He enlists in the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army. In 1849 he purchases his discharge and leaves for the United States, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas in June 1850 and earning his citizenship in 1855. He loves his new country, taking part in many community projects, and even being one of the few volunteers to care for the sick during a yellow fever outbreak.

In January 1861 Cleburne joins the local militia company, the Yell Rifles.  He leads the company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock in January 1861. When Arkansas left the Union, the Yell Rifles became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment. By fall of 1861 he has risen to command the 2nd Brigade, Hardee’s Division, in the Army of Central Kentucky. His first major battle is at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. At the Battle of Richmond (Kentucky) in August 1862, he is wounded in the mouth and loses several of his teeth. Still, he earns the thanks of the Confederate States Congress for his actions there. During the October 1862 Battle of Perryville he is wounded again – twice, yet stays in command during the battle. In December 1862 he is promoted to Major General.

At the December 1862 Battle of Stones River, Cleburne and his division earn the praise of General Braxton Bragg for their incredible skill and valor. Cleburne’s actions and character play a large role in his men’s determination during battle.

In 1863 Cleburne faces off against Union General George Henry Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga. His and General John C. Breckinridge’s assaults force General Thomas to call repeatedly for reinforcements. In November 1863 the Confederate army is forced to retreat after the Chattanooga Campaign. However, Cleburne has defeated every assault against his men eventually charging his attackers. After the battle, he and his men are charged with covering the retreat.

On January 2, 1864, Cleburne makes his most controversial decision ever. He gathers the corps and division commanders in the Army of Tennessee to present his proposal. The Confederacy is unable to fill its ranks due to a lack of manpower. He states that slavery is their “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.” His proposed solution is for the Confederacy to arm slaves to fight in the army. In time, these soldiers would receive their freedom. The proposal is not well received at all. In fact, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, directs that the proposal be suppressed.

In the spring of 1864 the Army of Tennessee moves towards Atlanta, Georgia. Cleburne and his men fight at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, Resaca, Pickett’s Mill, Ringgold and Kennesaw. The Atlanta Campaign begins in the summer and lasts until September, when General John Bell Hood evacuates Atlanta. Hood had taken command from General Joseph E. Johnston, which Cleburne felt to be a disaster for the Confederacy.

General Hood hopes to stop Union General John Schofield and his men before they can reach Nashville to reinforce General Thomas. Due to poor communications and nightfall, Schofield slips past the Army of Tennessee into Franklin.

The November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin is a tragic loss for the Confederacy. Hood throws his men into well-fortified Union troops. The results are disastrous. About 6,000 men are killed or wounded including six generals who are killed or mortally wounded. Cleburne is one of these six, killed while attacking Union breastworks. He is last seen advancing on foot toward the Union line with his sword raised, after his horse had been shot out from under him. Accounts later say that he is found just inside the Federal line and his body is carried back to an aid station along the Columbia Turnpike. Confederate war records indicate he died of a shot to the abdomen, or possibly a bullet that went through his heart. When Confederates find his body, he has been picked clean of any valuable items, including his sword, boots and pocket watch.

Cleburne’s remains are first laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. At the urging of Army Chaplain Biship Quintard, Judge Mangum, staff officer to Cleburne and his law partner in Helena, his remains are moved to St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, where they remain for six years. In 1870, he is disinterred and returned to his adopted hometown of Helena, Arkansas, with much fanfare, and buried in the Helena Confederate Cemetery located in the southwest corner of the Maple Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Several geographic features are named after Patrick Cleburne, including Cleburne County in Alabama and Arkansas, and the city of Cleburne, Texas. The Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery is a memorial cemetery in Jonesboro, Georgia that is named in honor of General Patrick Cleburne.


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Andrew Lewis Appointed Brigadier General of the Continental Army

andrew-lewis-statueIrish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army on March 1, 1776. He is most famous for his 1774 victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War. He also helps found Liberty Hall, later Washington and Lee University, when it is made into a college in 1776.

Lewis is born in County Donegal to Colonel John Lewis and his wife Margaret Lynn. In 1732 John Lewis, having killed his landlord in an altercation, flees to Virginia with his sons Andrew and Thomas. They become among the first settlers in western Augusta County.

Lewis receives a basic education and learns the skills of a surveyor. He spends at least fifteen years farming and working as a surveyor in southwestern Virginia. He also serves as county lieutenant and later captain in the Augusta County militia.

Early in the 1740s Lewis marries Elizabeth Givens, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Cathey) Givens, formerly of County Antrim. They establish their own home, called Richfield, in what later becomes Roanoke County near Salem.

The Virginia frontier becomes a battleground in the French and Indian War, as do the frontiers of the more northerly colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia organizes a militia to defend settlers subject to attacks by Indians upset at encroachments into their territories. Lewis becomes a captain in George Washington‘s regiment. However, after the loss at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, Washington is forced to surrender to the French. Lewis retreats across the Appalachian Mountains.

Washington proposes a series of frontier fortifications to protect settlers east of the Appalachians. Lewis initially serves to build Fort Dinwiddie on the Jackson River of present-day Bath County and is relieved of his command September 21, 1755. The Virginia assembly approves Lewis’ promotion to major and assigns him to oversee the region along the Greenbrier River. On February 18, 1756, he leads the Big Sandy expedition from Fort Frederick with a mixed force of militiamen and Cherokees to raid the Shawnee towns along the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers to retaliate for Shawnee attacks. He leads several expeditions against both Indian settlements and French outposts. During the Forbes Expedition, he is captured during Major James Grant‘s attack on Fort Duquesne during the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Taken to Quebec, he remains a prisoner until late 1759.

Upon the formation of Botetourt County from Augusta County in 1769, Lewis is elected to the House of Burgesses and reelected several times until 1780, though the American Revolution precludes much attendance in later years.

When the American Revolution begins, Governor Dunmore suspends Virginia’s legislature. The Whigs form a provisional congress, which includes both Lewis and his brother Thomas as delegates. When the Continental Congress creates a Continental Army in 1775 and makes George Washington its commander, he asks that Lewis be made a brigadier general. However, initially the Continental Congress had decided there should be only one general from each state, and Charles Lee is the first Virginian commissioned as Brigadier General.

On March 1, 1776, Lewis becomes a brigadier general, overseeing Virginia’s defense and raising men for the Continental Army. Virginia’s Committee of Safety calls on Lewis to stop Governor Dunmore’s raids along the coast from his last stronghold, a fortified position on Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay. On July 9, 1776 he leads Virginia’s forces which capture the island as Lord Dunmore escapes by sea, sailing to the Caribbean, never to return.

On April 15, 1777, Lewis resigns his commission, alleging poor health. However, he also faces discontent among his men and the army as a whole. Moreover, he is bypassed when promotions are announced for Major General in early 1777. George Washington, in need of every able officer, expresses his disappointment to Lewis.

Lewis remains active in the legislature, and in 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appoints him to the Executive Council. The following year, he falls ill while returning home from a council meeting. He dies of fever in Bedford County on September 26, 1781. He is buried in the family plot at his home. His gravesite is not marked. Colonel Elijah McClanahan, who marries Lewis’ granddaughter, Agatha Lewis McClanahan, attended his funeral as a young man, and later identifies his grave to Roanoke County’s Clerk of the Court. In 1887 General Lewis’ remains are re-interred in the East Hill Cemetery at Salem, Virginia.

(Pictured: Statue of General Andrew Lewis outside the Salem Civic Center)


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Death of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Mob Hitman

vincent-mad-dog-collVincent “Mad Dog” Coll, born Uinseann Ó Colla, Irish American mob hitman in the 1920s and early 1930s in New York City, dies on February 8, 1932.

Coll is born in Gweedore, County Donegal, on July 20, 1908. When he is not quite one year old, the Coll family emigrates to New York in search of a better life. At age 12, he is sent to a reform school. After being expelled from multiple Catholic reform schools, he joins The Gophers street gang. He joins up with Dutch Schultz‘s gang and quickly rises through the ranks. By the late 1920s he is working as an armed guard for the illegal beer delivery trucks of Schultz’s mob.

Coll is a loose cannon, and Schultz soon grows tired of his reckless behavior. In 1929, Coll robs a dairy in the Bronx of $17,000 without Schultz’s permission. When Schultz confronts him about the robbery, rather than being apologetic, Coll demands he be made an equal partner.

By January 1930 Coll has formed his own gang and is engaged in a shooting war with Schultz. One of the earliest victims is Peter Coll, shot dead on May 30, 1931, while driving down a Harlem street. Coll goes into a rage of grief and vengeance. Over the next three weeks he guns down four of Schultz’s men. In all, around 20 men are killed in the bloodletting. The exact figure is hard to pin down as New York is also in the midst of the vicious Castellammarese War at the same time. It is mayhem on the streets of Manhattan and the police often have difficulty in deciding which corpse belongs to which war.

On July 28, 1931, Coll allegedly participates in a kidnapping attempt that results in the shooting death of a child. His target is bootlegger Joseph Rao, a Schultz underling who is lounging in front of a social club. Several children are playing outside a nearby apartment house. A large touring car pulls up to the curb, and several men point shotguns and submachine guns towards Rao and start shooting. Rao throws himself to the sidewalk, however, and four young children are wounded in the attack. One of them, five-year-old Michael Vengalli, later dies at Beth David Hospital. After the Vengalli killing, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker dubs Coll a “Mad Dog”.

On October 4, 1931, after an extensive manhunt, New York police arrest Coll at a hotel in the Bronx. He surrenders peacefully. On October 5, a grand jury in New York city indicts Coll in the Vengalli murder. The trial begins in December 1931. He retains famed defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. The prosecution case soon falls apart. At the end of December, the judge issues a directed verdict of not guilty.

It was said that both Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden put a $50,000 bounty on Coll’s head. On February 1, 1932, four or five gunmen invade a Bronx apartment which Coll is rumored to frequent and open fire with pistols and submachine guns. Three people, Coll gangsters Patsy Del Greco and Fiorio Basile and bystander Emily Tanzillo, are killed. Three others are wounded. Coll himself does not show up until 30 minutes after the shooting.

At 12:30 AM on February 8, one week after the Bronx shootings, Coll is using a phone booth at a drug store at Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan. He is reportedly talking to Madden, demanding $50,000 from the gangster under the threat of kidnapping his brother-in-law. Madden keeps Coll on the line while it is traced. Three men in a dark limousine soon arrive at the drug store. While one waits in the car, two others step out. One man waits outside while the other walks inside the store. The gunman tells the cashier to stay calm, draws a Thompson submachine gun from under his overcoat and opens fire on Coll in the glass phone booth. He dies instantly. The killers take off in their car and are chased unsuccessfully up Eighth Avenue.

A total of 15 bullets are removed from Coll’s body at the morgue and even more may have passed through him. He is buried next to his brother Peter at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. Dutch Schultz sends a floral wreath bearing a banner with the message, “From the boys.”


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Birth of Martin Galvin, Publisher & Activist

martin-galvinMartin J. Galvin, Irish American lawyer, publisher and activist, and former director of NORAID, is born on January 8, 1950 supposedly in Long Island, New York, although he may have been born in the Republic of Ireland as he once, during an interview with 60 Minutes, refers to the “partition of the country of my birth.”

Galvin is the son of a fireman. He attends Catholic schools, Fordham University and Fordham University School of Law. He previously works as a hearing officer for the New York City Department of Sanitation.

Galvin serves as the publicity director for the New York-based NORAID, an Irish American group fundraising organization which raises money for the families of Irish republican prisoners, but is also accused by the American, British, and Irish governments to be a front for the supply of weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army

Galvin becomes a publisher of The Irish People in the 1980s. He is banned from Northern Ireland because of a speech he gives that seems to endorse terrorism. In August 1984 he defies the ban and enters Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland. The following year he returns to Northern Ireland to attend a funeral for an IRA member killed when a makeshift grenade launcher he is trying to fire at a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks explodes. In 1989 Galvin is arrested and deported for violating the exclusion ban yet again.

Galvin has criticised the Northern Ireland peace process as a betrayal of republican ideals, and characterizes the IRA’s decision to open up its arms dumps to Independent International Commission on Decommissioning inspectors as a surrender.

On May 28, 2016, Galvin attends a commemoration for PIRA volunteer George McBrearty in Creggan, Derry.


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Killing of Gangster & Bootlegger Jack “Legs” Diamond

jack-legs-diamondJack “Legs” Diamond, gangster, bootlegger, and associate of Arnold Rothstein, is gunned down in Albany, New York on December 18, 1931 while in a drunken stupor following a court case acquittal.

Born to an Irish immigrant family on July 10, 1897, in Philadelphia, Diamond becomes a leading figure in organized crime during the Prohibition era. He establishes liquor-smuggling enterprises in New York City and upstate New York, where he lives for a time after shooting and killing men in his Hotsy Totsy club.

After his mother’s death, Diamond moves with his father and brother to Brooklyn, New York. Growing up impoverished, he turns to street gangs and becomes involved in theft and violent crime as a teen. He later begins to work for gangsters Arnold Rothstein and Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen.

The Prohibition era begins in 1920. With alcohol smuggling a profitable underworld enterprise, Diamond organizes truck heists to seize liquor for his speakeasies. In 1923, he orders the murder of mob boss Nathan “Kid Dropper” Kaplan and usurps power in the world of organized crime for himself, aligning himself with mobsters like Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz. Diamond and Schultz would later become rivals.

Diamond sets up shop as an extremely violent and murderous figure. He earns his “Legs” nickname either due to his quickness when running from a scene of larceny or because of his prodigious dancing skills. He also marries Alice Schiffer in 1926. She remains devoted to him through his strings of crime and mistresses, which includes a notable affair with Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Kiki Roberts.

After a 1929 incident where Diamond publicly kills men in his Hotsy Totsy nightclub, authorities are unable to make the case stick due to the harassment and murder of witnesses. Looking to lie low, Diamond moves to Acra in upstate New York, where he sets up a huge beer-smuggling business.

During the course of his mob career, Diamond is shot on many occasions, receiving hospital treatment and recovering each time, earning the nickname “Clay Pigeon.”

In April 1931, near Catskill, New York, Diamond and colleagues hijack a truck with applejack liquor driven by Gordon Parks, whom they kidnap and torture. Parks survives and manages to reach the police. Diamond is arrested for the attack but later is acquitted in a December trial.

Diamond celebrates his acquittal days later with Roberts and returns drunk to his Albany residence. Early that morning, on December 18, 1931, he is shot and killed. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens on December 23. There is no church service or graveside ceremony. Two hundred family and spectators attend Diamond’s interment, however no criminal figures are spotted.

The mystery remains as to who is behind the killing. Biographer William Kennedy speculates that Diamond was taken out by Albany police via an order from political leader Dan O’Connell. Others say rival gangsters were behind the murder.

On July 1, 1933, Diamond’s widow, Alice Kenny Diamond, is found shot to death in her Brooklyn apartment. It is speculated that she is shot by Diamond’s enemies to keep her quiet.

(From: “Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond Biography” by the Editors of Biography.com, April 2, 2014)