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


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Death of William James MacNeven, Physician & Writer

william-james-macneven-1William James MacNeven, Irish American physician and writer, dies in New York City on July 12, 1841.

MacNeven is born on March 21, 1763 at Ballinahown, Aughrim, County Galway. The eldest of four sons, at the age of 12 MacNeven is sent by his uncle Baron MacNeven to receive his education abroad as the Penal Laws render education impossible for Catholics in Ireland. He makes his collegiate studies in Prague. His medical studies are made in Vienna where he is a pupil of Pestel and takes his degree in 1784. He returns to Dublin in the same year to practise.

MacNeven becomes involved in the Society of United Irishmen with such men as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Thomas Addis Emmet, and his brother Robert Emmet. He is arrested in March 1798 and confined in Kilmainham Gaol, and afterwards in Fort George, Scotland, until 1802, when he is liberated and exiled. In 1803, he is in Paris seeking an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte in order to obtain French troops for Ireland. Disappointed in his mission, MacNeven comes to the United States, landing at New York City on July 4, 1805.

In 1807, he delivers a course of lectures on clinical medicine in the recently established College of Physicians and Surgeons. Here in 1808, he receives the appointment of professor of midwifery. In 1810, at the reorganization of the school, he becomes the professor of chemistry, and in 1816 is appointed to the chair of materia medica. In 1826 with six of his colleagues, he resigns his professorship because of a misunderstanding with the New York Board of Regents, and accepts the chair of materia medica at Rutgers Medical College, a branch of the New Jersey institution of that name, established in New York as a rival to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The school at once becomes popular because of its faculty, but after four years is closed by legislative enactment on account of interstate difficulties. The attempt to create a school independent of the regents results in a reorganization of the University of the State of New York.

MacNeven, affectionately known as “The Father of American Chemistry,” dies in New York City on July 12, 1841. He is buried on the Riker Farm in the Astoria section of Queens, New York.

One of the oldest obelisks in New York City is dedicated to him in the Trinity Church, located between Wall Street and Broadway, New York. The obelisk is opposite to another commemorated for his friend Thomas Emmet. MacNeven’s monument features a lengthy inscription in Irish, one of the oldest existent dedications of this kind in the Americas.

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Birth of William O’Dwyer, 100th Mayor of New York City

william-o-dwyerWilliam O’Dwyer, Irish American politician and diplomat who serves as the 100th Mayor of New York City, holding that office from 1946 to 1950, is born in Bohola, County Mayo on July 11, 1890.

O’Dwyer studies at St. Nathys College, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. He emigrates to the United States in 1910, after abandoning studies for the priesthood. He sails to New York City as a steerage passenger on board the liner Philadelphia and is inspected at Ellis Island on June 27, 1910. He first works as a laborer, then as a New York City police officer, while studying law at night at Fordham University Law School. He receives his degree in 1923 and then builds a successful practice before serving as a Kings County (Brooklyn) Court judge. He wins election as the Kings County District Attorney in November 1939 and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate known as Murder, Inc. makes him a national celebrity.

After losing the mayoral election to Fiorello La Guardia in 1941, O’Dwyer joins the United States Army for World War II, achieving the rank of brigadier general as a member of the Allied Commission for Italy and executive director of the War Refugee Board, for which he receives the Legion of Merit. During that time, he is on leave from his elected position as district attorney and replaced by his chief assistant, Thomas Cradock Hughes, and is re-elected in November 1943.

In 1945, O’Dwyer receives the support of Tammany Hall leader Edward V. Loughlin, wins the Democratic nomination, and then easily wins the mayoral election. He establishes the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Park Commissioner Robert Moses to the post, works to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presides over the first billion-dollar New York City budget, creates a traffic department and raises the subway fare from five cents to ten cents. In 1948, he receives The Hundred Year Association of New York‘s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.” In 1948, he receives the epithets “Whirling Willie” and “Flip-Flop Willie” from U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio of the opposition American Labor Party while the latter is campaigning for Henry A. Wallace.

Shortly after his re-election to the mayoralty in 1949, O’Dwyer is confronted with a police corruption scandal uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. O’Dwyer resigns from office on August 31, 1950. Upon his resignation, he is given a ticker tape parade up Broadway‘s Canyon of Heroes in the borough of Manhattan. President Harry Truman appoints him U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He returns to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures and the accusations follow him for the rest of his life. He resigns as ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remains in Mexico until 1960.

O’Dwyer visits Israel for 34 days in 1951 on behalf of his Jewish constituents. Along with New York’s Jewish community, he helps organize the first Israel Day Parade.

William O’Dwyer dies in New York City on November 24, 1964, in Beth Israel Hospital, aged 74, from heart failure. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, Grave 889-A-RH.


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Birth of Chicago Mobster Charles Dean O’Banion

charles-o-banionCharles Dean O’Banion, better known as Dion O’Banion, is born to Irish Catholic parents in Maroa, Illinois on July 8, 1892. He graduates from the violent newspaper wars of early 20th century Chicago to become the chief bootlegging rival of mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio.

After the death of his mother in 1901, O’Banion moves with his family to a North Side neighborhood populated largely by other Irish Americans. The neighborhood, then known as Kilgubbin after an Irish place name and now called Goose Island, is notorious for its high crime rate, and O’Banion by all accounts fit easily into that environment. In his teens, he forms a street gang with Earl “Hymie” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran with whom he continues to associate throughout his life.

Chicago of the period is, according to Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, a “wide open city.” Wide open for rackets such as prostitution and gambling, and wide open for violent competition among gangsters. Bombings and murder are met with token official resistance but are often settled by uneasy truces among the rivals.

The violence extends to the press. O’Banion and his friends are “sluggers” for, first, the Chicago Tribune and later for the Tribune’s rival, the Chicago Examiner. Sluggers intimidate sellers and readers of the wrong newspaper. Although played for laughs in stage and film in productions such as The Front Page, the Chicago newspaper wars are quite violent and include lethal gunfights in saloons and on the streets.

In 1909, O’Banion is arrested and convicted of robbery and assault.

The newspapers wars are a good warm-up for O’Banion’s work as a bootlegger when Prohibition comes into effect in 1920. Chicago, with its large population of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe, is a town that loves its beer, wine and liquor. Almost from the start, O’Banion’s North Side Gang is at odds with the South Side outfit led at the time by Torrio.

About 1921, O’Banion and Torrio, who actively wants peace with his rival, works out a deal that seems to satisfy both the South Side gangsters and O’Banion’s group. O’Banion not only keeps the North Side and the Gold Coast, a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Michigan, but he even gets a slice of Cicero, a suburb controlled by Torrio and Capone on the South Side of Chicago, and they all share profits from a lakefront casino called The Ship.

Eventually the peace breaks down. O’Banion is enraged by efforts of a third gang, the Genna crime family’s West Side Gang, to expand its bootlegging and rackets operations into his territory. The Gennas are allied with Torrio’s South Side gang. O’Banion seals his fate when he refuses to forgive a gambling debt that one of the Gennas had racked up at The Ship.

On the morning of November 10, 1924, O’Banion is in his North Side flower shop, Schofield’s, a front for his mob activities. A Torrio associate from New York City, Frankie Yale, enters the shop with Genna gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. When O’Banion and Yale shake hands, Yale grasps O’Banion’s hand in a tight grip. At the same time, Scalise and Anselmi step aside and fire two bullets into O’Banion’s chest and two into his throat. One of the killers fires a final shot into the back of his head as he lies face down on the floor.

Since O’Banion is a major crime figure, the Catholic Church denies him burial in consecrated ground. However, a priest O’Banion has known since childhood recites the Lord’s Prayer and three Hail Marys in his memory. Despite this restriction, his funeral is the biggest anyone can remember. Among those attending are Al Capone and members of the South Side Gang. But there soon will be other funerals. The Beer Wars, as they become known, are just beginning.

Torrio escapes an assassination attempt in 1925 and turns over his operation to Capone, the greatest gangster of all. O’Banion’s friend and conspirator Hymie Weiss, who is fingered as one of those who tried to kill Torrio, is gunned down in 1926. In 1929, in an effort to permanently put down the North Side Gang, led then by Bugs Moran, seven of the North Side mobsters are killed in the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but Moran survives through the end of Prohibition in 1933.


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Birth of Robert Nugent, Civil War and Indian Wars Officer

robert-nugentBrigadier General Robert Nugent, Irish-born American United States Army officer during the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars, is born on June 27, 1824 in Kilkeel, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Nugent serves with the Irish Brigade‘s 69th Infantry Regiment, from its days as a National Guard unit and into its incorporation into the Union Army at the start of the war. He is one of its senior officers at the First Battle of Bull Run.

When the unit is originally mustered out of service, the 90-day enlistment terms having expired, Nugent accepts a commission as a captain in the regular army. He is immediately assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment whose commanding officer, Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman, personally requests. Taking a leave of absence to return to New York, he assists Thomas Francis Meagher in organizing the Irish Brigade. The newly reformed 69th Infantry Regiment is the first unit assigned to the Irish Brigade and, with Nugent as its colonel, he leads the “Fighting 69th” at the Battles of Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill.

Nugent is shot in the stomach at the Battle of Fredericksburg and is eventually forced to resign his command. He is appointed acting assistant provost marshal for the southern district of New York, which includes New York City and Long Island, by the United States War Department. An Irishman and Democrat, his appointment is thought to assure the Irish American population that conscription efforts would be carried out fairly. The Irish American, a popular Irish language newspaper, writes that the selection is a “wise and deservedly popular one.” He encounters resistance from city officials wanting to remain uninvolved, however by mid-June reports to his superior officer and provost marshal general Colonel James Barnet Fry that conscription efforts are “nearing completion without serious incident.”

Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Nugent attempts to keep the draft selections quiet and in isolated parts of the city. In Manhattan however, lotteries are placed in the heart of Irish tenement and shanty neighborhoods where the draft is most opposed.

In the ensuing New York City draft riots, Nugent takes command of troops and attempts to defend the city against the rioters. Despite issuing the cancellation of the draft, the riots continue for almost a week. His home on West 86th Street is looted and burned by the rioters during that time, his wife and children barely escaping from their home. Upon breaking into his house, furniture is destroyed and paintings of Nugent and Meagher are slashed, although a painting of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran is reportedly left untouched.

On October 28, Nugent is relieved of his post and succeeded by General William Hays. Returning to active duty, he assumes command of the Irish Brigade in November 1864, shortly after the death of Corcoran. He is present at the battle of Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign. As its last commanding officer, he and the Irish Brigade also march in the victory parade held in Washington, D.C. following Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Nugent is brevetted Brigadier General for distinguished leadership of the 69th Regiment on March 13, 1865. The veterans of the Irish Brigade are honorably discharged and mustered out three months later. Nugent remains in the regular U.S. Army for the next twenty years, a formidable “Indian fighter” during the American Indian Wars with the 13th and 24th Infantry Regiments. In 1879, he retires at the rank of major and resides in New York where he is involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, the War Veterans’ Association of the 7th Regiment and an honorary member of The Old Guard.

Nugent becomes ill in his old age, complications arising from his wounds suffered at Fredericksburg, and remains bedridden for two months before his death at his McDonough Street home in Brooklyn on June 20, 1901. In accordance with his last wishes, he is buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery.


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Birth of Audie Murphy, Decorated Soldier & Actor

audie-leon-murphyAudie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, is born to sharecropping parents of Irish descent in Kingston, Texas on June 20, 1925.

As a child, Murphy is a loner with mood swings and an explosive temper. He grows up in Texas, around Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, where he attends elementary school. His father drifts in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserts them. He drops out of school in fifth grade and gets a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support his family. After his mother dies of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, he works at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy’s older sister helps him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military. Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlists in the Army. He first sees action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944, he participates in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. He fights at Montélimar and leads his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.

Murphy receives every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He receives the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrates at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, Murphy embarks on a 21-year acting career. He plays himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his roles are in westerns. He makes guest appearances on celebrity television shows and stars in the series Whispering Smith. He is a fairly accomplished songwriter. He breeds American Quarter Horses in California and Arizona and becomes a regular participant in horse racing.

Suffering from what would today be described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Murphy sleeps with a loaded handgun under his pillow. He looks for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In his last few years, he is plagued by money problems but refuses offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he does not want to set a bad example.

Audie Murphy is killed on May 28, 1971 when the private plane in which he is a passenger crashes into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, twenty miles west of Roanoke in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers are also killed. On June 7, 1971, he is buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In attendance are United States Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff of the United States Army William Westmoreland, and many of the 3rd Infantry Division. His gravesite is the cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

(Pictured: Audie Murphy as Tom Smith in the television series Whispering Smith, 1961)


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Birth of Januarius MacGahan, Journalist & Correspondent

januarius-macgahanJanuarius Aloysius MacGahan, American journalist and war correspondent for the New York Herald and The Daily News, is born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 creates public outrage in Europe, and are a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which leads to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

MacGahan’s father is an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena. He moves to St. Louis, where he briefly works as a teacher and as a journalist. There he meets his cousin, General Philip Sheridan, an American Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinces him to study law in Europe. He sails to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan does not get a law degree, but he discovers that he has a gift for languages, learning French and German. He runs short of money and is about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out. Sheridan happens to be an observer with the German Army, and he uses his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

MacGahan’s vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army win him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald are reprinted by European newspapers. When the war ends, he interviews French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo and, in March 1871, he hurries to Paris and is one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He is arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and is only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne.

In 1871 MacGahan is assigned as the Herald‘s correspondent to Saint Petersburg. He learns Russian, mingles with the Russian military and nobility, covers the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and meets his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he marries in 1873. In 1874 he spends ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War.

In 1876 MacGahan quarrels with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and leaves the newspaper. He is invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. He obtains a commission from The Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and leaves for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.

MacGahan reports that the Turkish soldiers have forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church is burned and survivors tortured to learn where they have hidden their treasures. He says that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survive. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria are destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred. These reports, published first in The Daily News, and then in other papers, cause widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tries to minimize the massacres and says that the Bulgarians are equally to blame, but his arguments are refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepare to invade the Ottoman Empire, and declare war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appeals for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responds that it can not intervene “because of the state of public feeling.”

MacGahan is assigned as a war correspondent for The Daily News and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rides with the first units of the Russian Army as it crosses the Danube into Bulgaria. He covers all the major battles of the Russo–Turkish War, including the Siege of Plevna and the Battle of Shipka Pass. He reports on the final defeat of the Turkish armies and is present at the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ends the war.

MacGahan is in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determines the final borders of Bulgaria, when he catches typhoid fever. He dies on June 9, 1878, and is buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Skobelev. Five years later his body is returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington and a statue is erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian Americans.


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.