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


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Birth of Alistair Cooke, Journalist & Broadcaster

alistair-cookeAlistair Cooke, British journalist, television personality, and broadcaster, who describes himself as a “Lancastrian Irishman,” is born in Salford, Lancashire, England on November 20, 1908. He is best known for his lively and insightful interpretations of American history and culture.

The son of Samuel Cooke, a Wesleyan Methodist lay preacher, and Mary Elizabeth (Byrne) from County Sligo, He is educated at Blackpool Grammar School, Blackpool and wins a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he gains an honours degree in English. Later he wins a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to study in the United States, first at Yale University (1932–33), then at Harvard University (1933–34). His cross-country travels during the summers of these years have a profound influence on his professional life.

Following a brief period as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Cooke returns to England to become a film critic for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and later serves as London correspondent for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) of the United States. In 1937 he returns to the United States, settles in New York City, and becomes an American citizen in 1941.

From the late 1930s, Cooke reports and comments on American affairs for BBC Radio and several major British newspapers. His weekly 15-minute program, Letter from America, broadcast from 1946 to 2004, is one of the longest-running series on radio. The texts of many broadcasts are collected in One Man’s America (1952) and Talk About America (1968). From 1956 to 1961 he hosts and narrates the weekly television “magazine” Omnibus, which wins numerous broadcasting awards.

Cooke’s interpretation of the American experience culminates in his BBC-produced television series America: A Personal History of the United States (1972–1973). In thirteen installments, filmed on location throughout the United States, he surveys some 500 years of American history in an eclectic and personal but highly coherent narrative. Alistair Cooke’s America (1973), the book based on the award-winning program, is a best-seller in the United States. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, as host of Masterpiece Theatre, he serves as an interpreter of British culture through the presentation of BBC dramatic television programming to American audiences.

Cooke’s other works include the critical biography Douglas Fairbanks: The Making of a Screen Actor (1940), Generation on Trial: The USA v. Alger Hiss (1950), based on his coverage of a celebrated Congressional investigation, The Vintage Mencken (1955), The Patient Has the Floor (1986), America Observed (1988), Memories of the Great and the Good (2000) and, with Robert Cameron, The Americans (1977).

On March 2, 2004, at the age of 95, following advice from his doctors, Cooke announces his retirement from Letter from America—after 58 years, the longest-running speech radio show in the world.

Alistair Cooke dies at midnight on March 30, 2004 at his home in New York City. He had been ill with heart disease, but dies of lung cancer, which had spread to his bones. He is cremated and his ashes are clandestinely scattered by his family in New York’s Central Park.


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Birth of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Politician, Writer & Historian

conor-cruise-o-brienConor Cruise O’Brien, politician, writer, historian and academic often nicknamed “The Cruiser,” is born in Rathmines, Dublin on November 3, 1917. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1973 to 1977, a Senator for University of Dublin from 1977 to 1979, a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North-East constituency from 1969 to 1977 and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from January 1973 to March 1973.

Cruise O’Brien follows his cousin Owen into Sandford Park School, which has a predominantly Protestant ethos despite objections from Catholic clergy. He subsequently attends Trinity College Dublin before joining the Irish diplomatic corps.

Although he is a fierce advocate of his homeland, Cruise O’Brien is a strong critic of Irish Republican Army violence and of what he considers the romanticized desire for reunification with Northern Ireland. His collection of essays Maria Cross: Imaginative Patterns in a Group of Modern Catholic Writers (1952; written under the pseudonym Donat O’Donnell) impresses UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who in 1961 appoints him UN special representative in the Congo, later the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He orders UN peacekeeping forces into the breakaway Katanga province, and the resulting scandal forces him out of office. Despite UN objections, he writes To Katanga and Back (1963) to explain his actions.

After serving as vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana (1962–65) and Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at New York University (1965–69), Cruise O’Brien enters Irish politics. He holds a Labour Party seat in Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1977 and then in the Senate from 1977 to 1979, representing Trinity College, of which he is pro-chancellor (1973–2008).

In 1979 Cruise O’Brien is named editor in chief of the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, but he leaves after three tumultuous years. He remains an active newspaper columnist, especially for the Irish Independent until 2007. His books include States of Ireland (1972) and On the Eve of the Millennium (1995), as well as perceptive studies of Charles Stewart Parnell, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson.

Conor Cruise O’Brien dies at the age of 91 on December 18, 2008 in Howth, Dublin.


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First Issue of “The Nation” Published

the-nation-01-17-1852The first issue of The Nation, an Irish nationalist weekly newspaper, is published on October 15, 1842. It is printed at 12 Trinity Street, Dublin until January 6, 1844. The paper is later published at 4 D’Olier Street from July 13, 1844 until July 28, 1848, when the issue for the following day is seized and the paper suppressed. It is published again in Middle Abbey Street on its revival in September 1849.

The founders of The Nation are three young men, Charles Gavan Duffy, its first editor, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which seeks repeal of the disastrous Acts of Union 1800 between Ireland and Britain. This association later becomes known as Young Ireland.

John Mitchel joins the staff of The Nation in the autumn of 1845. On Mitchel’s frequent trips from Banbridge, County Down to Dublin, he had come in contact with the Repeal members who gathered about The Nation office and in the spring of 1843 he becomes a member of the Repeal Association. For the next two years he writes political and historical articles and reviews for The Nation. He covers a wide range of subjects, including the Irish Potato Famine, on which he contributes some influential articles which attract significant attention.

Mitchel resigns his position as lead writer for The Nation in 1847 because he comes to regard as “absolutely necessary a more vigorous policy against the English Government than that which William Smith O’Brien, Charles Gavan Duffy and other Young Ireland leaders were willing to pursue.” Upon his resignation he starts his own paper, The United Irishman.

Women also write for The Nation and publish under pseudonyms such as Speranza (Jane Elgee, Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde‘s mother), Eithne (Marie Thompson) and Eva (Mary Eva Kelly, who would marry Kevin Izod O’Doherty.

The role played by some of its key figures in the paper in the ill-fated Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 cement the paper’s reputation as the voice of Irish radicalism. Dillon is a central figure in the revolt and is sentenced to death, the sentence later commuted. He flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Its triumvirate of founders follow differing paths. Davis dies at age 30 in 1845. Both Dillon and Duffy become MPs in the British House of Commons. Duffy emigrates to Australia where he becomes premier of the state of Victoria, later being knighted as a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Dillon dies in 1866. His son, John Dillon, becomes leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and his grandson, James Dillon, leader of Fine Gael.

The Nation continues to be published until 1900, when it merges with the Irish Weekly Independent. Later political figures associated with the paper included Timothy Daniel Sullivan and J.J. Clancy.


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Birth of Peadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Irish Language Writer

peadar-toner-mac-fhionnlaoichPeadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Irish language writer during the Gaelic revival known as Cú Uladh (The Hound of Ulster), is born in Allt an Iarainn, County Donegal on October 5, 1857. He writes stories based on Irish folklore, some of the first Irish language plays, and regularly writes articles in most of the Irish language newspapers such as An Claidheamh Soluis.

Mac Fhionnlaoich is the son of Micheal McGinley and Susan Toner. He attends school locally until he is seventeen. He then attends Blackrock College in Dublin for two years. Upon leaving school he enters into the British Civil Service becoming an Inland Revenue Officer. In 1895 he marries Elizabeth Woods (Irish: Sibhéal Ní Uadhaigh) and they have twelve children. He speaks Irish from an early age and keeps an interest in the language throughout his life, first publishing an Irish language short story and poem in The Donegal Christmas Annual 1883. It is not until 1895 while living in Belfast that he becomes involved in the Gaelic Movement.

It is in Mac Fhionnlaoich’s Belfast home that the first meeting of the Ulster branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge takes place in 1895. From this point on he becomes very involved in Conradh na Gaeilge becoming the organisations president on several occasions.

Mac Fhionnlaoich is a member of Seanad Éireann from 1938 to 1942 when he is nominated by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera.

Mac Fhionnlaoich dies at the age of 84 on July 1, 1942 in Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of William O’Brien, Journalist & Politician

william-o-brienWilliam O’Brien, journalist and politician who is for several years second only to Charles Stewart Parnell among Irish Nationalist leaders, is born on October 2, 1852 in Mallow, County Cork. He is perhaps most important for his Plan of Campaign (1886), by which Irish tenant farmers withhold all rent payments from landlords who refuse to lower their rents and instead pay the money into a mutual defense fund on which evicted tenants can draw.

O’Brien shares his primary education with a townsman with whom he is later to have a close political connection, Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan of Doneraile. He enjoys his secondary education at the Cloyne diocesan college, which results in his being brought up in an environment noted for its religious tolerance. He greatly values having had this experience from an early age, which strongly influences his later views for the need of such tolerance in Irish national life.

A journalist from 1869, O’Brien is appointed editor of the Irish Land League’s weekly United Ireland by Parnell in 1881. In October of that year the British authorities suppress the paper and put O’Brien in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, along with Parnell and others. There he draws up a No Rent Manifesto, which, when read at a Land League meeting, results in the outlawing of the League. Released from prison in 1882, he resumes the editorship of United Ireland, and in 1883 he is elected to the British House of Commons, remaining there until 1895. His “plan of campaign” is disavowed by Parnell but nonetheless stirs up fierce agitation. To suppress the movement, the British government passes the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, under which O’Brien is jailed again.

For some time following the O’Shea divorce case (1889–90), in which Parnell is corespondent, O’Brien attempts to mediate between the Parnellites and their opponents, although he sides with the majority in rejecting Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Home Rule struggle. In 1902 he supports the Land Conference, which secures agreement between landlords and tenants’ representatives and results in George Wyndham‘s Land Purchase Act (1903), which is designed to turn Irish tenant farmers into occupying owners.

In 1898 O’Brien founds the United Irish League, and in 1910, after control of that group passes to the Parnellite John Redmond, he establishes the All-for-Ireland League in opposition to the older organization. Most of his personal following, however, join Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin party by the end of World War I.

Retiring from political life, O’Brien contents himself with writing and declines Éamon de Valera‘s offer to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He dies suddenly at the age of 75 on February 25, 1928 while on a visit to London with his wife. His remains rest in Mallow, and one of the principal streets in the town bears his name to this day. His head-bust overlooks the town Council’s Chamber Room and one of his finest portraits hangs in University College Cork.


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Founding of “The Freeman’s Journal”

the-freemans-journalThe Freeman’s Journal, the oldest nationalist newspaper in Dublin, is founded by Charles Lucas on September 10, 1763. It is identified with radical 18th-century Protestant patriot politicians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. This changes from 1784 when it passes to Francis Higgins and takes a more pro-British and pro-administration view. In fact, Higgins is mentioned in the Secret Service Money Book as having betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald. Higgins is paid £1,000 for information on FitzGerald’s capture.

In the 19th century The Freeman’s Journal becomes more nationalist in tone, particularly under the control and inspiration of Sir John Gray (1815–75).

The Journal, as it is widely known, is the leading newspaper in Ireland throughout the 19th century. Contemporary sources record it being read to the largely illiterate population by priests and local teachers gathering in homes. It is mentioned in contemporary literature as when James Joyce immortalises The Freeman’s Journal as the place of employment of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. It is seen as symbolising Irish newspapers for most of its time. By the 1880s it becomes the primary media supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

The Journal is challenged on all sides by rivals. On the nationalist side some prefer The Nation founded by Thomas Davis while others, including radical supporters of Parnell, read the United Irishman. The Anglo-Irish establishment in contrast reads the historically Irish unionist The Irish Times. With the split in the IPP over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, its readership splits too. While The Journal goes with the majority in 1893 in opposing Parnell, a minority moves to read the Daily Irish Independent. It is also challenged from the turn of the century by William O’Brien‘s The Irish People and the Cork Free Press. With Thomas Sexton becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors (1893–1911), The Journal languishes under his spartanic management.

The collapse of the IPP in 1918, and the electoral success of Sinn Féin, see a more radical nationalism appear that is out of step with the moderation of The Journal. It finds itself overshadowed by the more aggressively marketed Irish Independent, the successor to the Daily Irish Independent. Just prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in March 1922, The Freeman’s Journal printing machinery is destroyed by Anti-Treaty IRA men under Rory O’Connor for its support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It does not resume publication until after the outbreak of civil war, when the Irish Free State re-asserts its authority over the country.

The Freeman’s Journal ceases publication in 1924, when it is merged with the Irish Independent. Until the 1990s, the Irish Independent includes the words ‘Incorporating the Freeman’s Journal’ in the masthead over its editorials.


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Death of Sir Richard Steele, Writer, Playwright & Politician

richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, dies in Carmarthen, Wales on September 1, 1729.

Steele is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672 to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles). He is largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay. A member of the Protestant gentry, he is educated at Charterhouse School, where he first meets Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he goes on to Merton College, Oxford, then joins the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William‘s wars against France. He is commissioned in 1697, and rises to the rank of captain within two years. He leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, 3rd Baron Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele is a member of the Kit-Kat Club. Both Steele and Addison become closely associated with Child’s Coffee-house in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he is serving in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction.

Steele writes a comedy that same year titled The Funeral. This play meets with wide success and is performed at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, he writes The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, he writes The Tender Husband with contributions from Addison, and later that year writes the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh, also an important member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club with Addison and Steele.

In 1706 Steele is appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gains the favour of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, first appears on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. He writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that had come under Tory attack.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favor of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain comes to the throne in the following year, Steele is knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. He returns to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.

While at Drury Lane, Steele writes and directs the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, which is an immediate hit. However, he falls out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retires to his second wife’s homeland of Wales. He remains in Carmarthen after his wife’s death, dying there on September 1, 1729. He is buried there at St. Peter’s Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull is discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Richard Steele by Jonathan Richardson)