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


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Death of Charlotte Grace O’Brien, Philanthropist & Activist

Charlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist and an activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, dies on June 3, 1909. She is known also as a plant collector.

Born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick, O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters. Her father is William Smith O’Brien, the Irish nationalist and her mother is Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. On her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels, and stays there until he comes back to Cahirmoyle in 1856. On her mother’s death in 1861, she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864, O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, caring for his motherless children until his remarriage in 1880. Having been hard of hearing since childhood, by 1879 she has become entirely deaf. She goes to live at Ardanoir near Foynes on the River Shannon, and spends time writing. She becomes a staunch supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

A bad harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, causes many Irish people to emigrate to the United States. In articles and letters to newspapers and reviews, O’Brien exposes the awful conditions that exist in the Queenstown (Cobh) lodging houses, on board the emigrant ships, and in the dock slums of New York City, where the Irish have to stay upon landing. A notable piece she writes is the Horrors of the Immigrant Ship which appears in The Pall Mall Gazette on May 6, 1881.

A visit to Queenstown, the port of embarkation, and a tour of the White Star Line‘s Germanic leads her to successfully lobby to get a Catholic priest aboard the emigrant ship to help ease the passage, at least spiritually. That achievement captures even more public attention by virtue of the fact that O’Brien herself is Protestant. Despite the limit of 1,000 passengers, she notes the steamer has carried as many as 1,775 at one time.

O’Brien presses the Board of Trade for greater vigilance, and in April 1882, founds a 105-bed boarding house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating. The O’Brien Emigrants Home at The Beach, Queenstown fails because it is boycotted by other boardinghouse keepers and local merchants, forcing her to order provisions from Cork.

O’Brien also daily visits three or four of the ships for which her lodgers are destined along with a medical officer. She makes passages herself to America, using the occasion to investigate shipboard conditions and lobby for the reform and enforcement of health and safety standards.

O’Brien finds little effort to provide food, drink or accommodation at the Castle Garden entry facility. She also finds that often the illiterate young women are being tricked into prostitution through spurious offers of employment. Additionally, she notes the high infant mortality rates in the tenements where the women live. She proposes to Archbishop John Ireland of Minnesota an information bureau at Castle Garden, a temporary shelter to provide accommodation for immigrants and a chapel. Archbishop Ireland agrees to raise the matter at the May 1883 meeting of the Irish Catholic Association which endorses the plan and votes to establish an information bureau at Castle Garden. Ireland also contacts Cardinal John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, about providing a priest for immigrants arriving at Castle Garden.

The Mission opens on January 1, 1884 with Rev. John J. Riordan appointed as the first chaplain at Castle Garden. Immigrant girls needing accommodation are placed in local boarding houses until May 1 when a Home for Immigrant Girls is opened at 7 Broadway. In 1885, the James Watson House at 7 State Street is purchased from Isabella Wallace for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls to serve as a way station for young immigrant women. Between 1884 and 1890, the Mission provides assistance to 25,000 Irish immigrant women.

In 1881–82, O’Brien embarks on a campaigning lecture tour in the United States. She encounters problems, however, particularly given her Protestant background and the need to enlist support from Catholic clergy. Poor health, and her profound deafness cause her to curtail her activities in America. When she returns to Ireland in 1883, she finds herself suspected of being a British agent whose Emigrant Boarding house and whose plans for an American home for Irish immigrant girls facilitate the government’s assisted emigrant scheme. Supposedly, this would be the scheme that helps landlords clear their estates of poor tenants. In fact, O’Brien opposes assisted emigration, but she continues to assist those who are sent to her.

O’Brien retires from active public work in 1886, moving to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary. She spends considerable time in Dublin, where she socialises with Douglas Hyde and the painter William Osbourne. She joins the Roman Catholic Church in 1887. She dies of heart failure on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick.


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Birth of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, educator, philanthropist, and the founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, is born in Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny on June 1, 1762.

Rice is born into a Catholic family and is one of nine children. It comes as a surprise that a Catholic family can be prosperous in these days but they have a lease of a good-sized farm and are industrious people. In view of his future work in education it is fortunate that he receives a very good education himself, first at a local hedge school and then at a private secondary school in Kilkenny.

Rice is apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford at the age of 17. Waterford is then the second largest port in Ireland with an expanding trade with England, France and Spain and has very special trading links across the Atlantic with Newfoundland. His uncle is involved in providing food and services for the crews and passengers of the ships trading in and out of the port of Waterford. His uncle becomes a very prosperous businessman and his business expands even more after it is handed over to his nephew. His great wealth is later to be used in transforming the lives of countless young boys.

At the age of 25 Rice marries Mary Elliot and is left a widower two years later when she dies after falling from a horse. He is left with a handicapped daughter, Mary. He calls in his step-sister Joan Murphy to help him care for his daughter so he can develop the business he inherited from his uncle.

In 1802, having properly cared for his daughter, Rice begins a night school for the uneducated boys from the quays of Waterford. His deep desire is to found a religious order of men who will educate these poor boys so that they can live with dignity and high self-esteem. But his volunteer assistants cannot stick with it. Neither can the paid teachers he later employs. Just when his spirits are lowest, and he looks to be a failure to all his business colleagues, two men from his native Callan join him not only to educate these unruly boys but also to join him in his plan to found a religious order. To do such a thing is contrary to the law. Nevertheless Rice and his growing number of companions proceed. In 1808 seven of them take religious vows under Bishop Power of Waterford. They are called Presentation Brothers. This is the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded in a Church by a layman. Rice has in the meantime built a substantial school out of his own money, but it is already proving too small for the many boys who flock to him for an education.

Gradually an extraordinary transformation takes place in the “quay kids” of Waterford. Rice and his Brothers educate them, clothe and feed them. Other Bishops in Ireland supply him with men whom he prepares for religious life and teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland. However, the groups in separate dioceses are not under his control but that of the Bishop. This creates problems when Brothers need to be transferred. Rice seeks and ultimately obtains approval from Pope Pius VII for his Brothers to be made into a pontifical congregation with Rice as Superior General. He is then able to move Brothers to wherever they are most needed. From this time on they are called Christian Brothers. By 1825 there are 30 Christian Brothers working in 12 towns and cities and educating 5,500 boys, free of charge. Many of these boys are also being clothed and fed.

Rice’s life is steeped in a spirituality that is strong and practical. He is forever caring for the poor in the wretched circumstances of their lives, for he believes there is a great need “to give to the poor in handfuls.” Many people, both men and women, from many cultures, young and old are helped and given hope and purpose and a new footing in life. He and his Brothers even card for the inmates of the jails of Waterford. He is privileged to comfort and accompany many a condemned man to the gallows. The poor never forget his love for them and see him as “a man raised up by God.”

Rice endures many and severe trials and in 1829 it seems the Christian Brothers are going to be suppressed by the law of the land. They face extinction but this does not happen. An even worse trial comes to him personally when some of his own Brothers try to undermine his work. Fortunately they are unsuccessful. He gave his Brothers as their motto a text from the Book of Job that means so much to him in his life: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”

In 1838, at the age of 76, Rice retires from leadership of the congregation and returns to Waterford. After living in a near-comatose state for more than two years, he dies at Mount Sion, Waterford on August 29, 1844, where his remains lie in a casket to this day.

Rice is declared to be Blessed Edmund Rice by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 6, 1996. His Feast Day in the Catholic Church is 5 May.

(From: “Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice,” Diocese of Waterford & Lismore, http://www.waterfordlismore.ie)


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Choctaw Nation Raises Money for Irish Famine Relief

On March 23, 1847, the Native Americans of the Choctaw Nation take up an amazing collection. They raise $170 for Irish Famine relief, an incredible sum at the time worth in the tens of thousands of dollars today.

The Choctaw have an incredible history of deprivation themselves, forced off their lands in 1831, they embark on a 500-mile trek to Oklahoma called the “Trail of Tears.” Ironically the man who forces them off their lands is Andrew Jackson, the son of Irish immigrants.

On September 27, 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek is signed. It represents one of the largest transfers of land that is signed between the United States Government and Native Americans without being instigated by warfare. By the treaty, the Choctaws sign away their remaining traditional homelands, opening them up for European American settlement. The tribes are then sent on a forced march.

As historian Edward O’Donnell writes “Of the 21,000 Choctaws who started the journey, more than half perished from exposure, malnutrition, and disease. This despite the fact that during the War of 1812 the Choctaws had been allies of then-General Jackson in his campaign against the British in New Orleans.”

Sixteen years later the Choctaws meet in their new tribal land and send money to a U.S. famine relief organization for Ireland. It is the most extraordinary gift of all to famine relief in Ireland. The Choctaws send the money at the height of the Famine, “Black 47,” when close to a million Irish are starving to death.

Thanks to the work of Irish activists such as Don Mullan and Choctaw leader Gary White Deer, the Choctaw gift has been recognized in Ireland. In 1990, a number of Choctaw leaders take part in the first annual Famine walk at Doolough in County Mayo recreating a desperate walk by locals to a local landlord in 1848.

In 1992 Irish commemoration leaders take part in the 500-mile trek from Oklahoma to Mississippi. The Choctaw make Ireland’s president Mary Robinson an honorary chief. They do the same for Don Mullan. Even better, both groups become determined to help famine sufferers, mostly in Africa and the Third World, and have done so ever since.

The gift is remembered in Ireland. A plaque on Dublin‘s Mansion House that honors the Choctaw contribution reads: “Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

(From: “How Choctaw Indians raised money for Irish Great Hunger relief” by IrishCentral Staff, http://www.irishcentral.com, November 27, 2020 | Pictured: Kindred Spirits monument, a tribute to the Choctaw Nation, in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland)


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Death of Arthur Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun

Arthur Edward Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun, Irish businessman, politician, and philanthropist, best known for giving St. Stephen’s Green back to the people of Dublin, dies on January 20, 1915.

Guinness is born on November 1, 1840 at St. Anne’s, Raheny, near Dublin, the eldest son of Sir Benjamin Guinness, 1st Baronet, and elder brother of Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh. He is the great-grandson of Arthur Guinness. He is educated at Eton College and Trinity College Dublin and, in 1868, succeeds his father as second Baronet.

In the 1868 United Kingdom general election Guinness is elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Dublin City, a seat he holds for only a year. His election is voided because of his election agent’s unlawful efforts, which the court finds were unknown to him. He is re-elected the following year in the 1874 United Kingdom general election.

A supporter of Benjamin Disraeli‘s one-nation conservatism, Guinness’s politics are typical of “constructive unionism,” the belief that the union between Ireland and Britain should be more beneficial to the people of Ireland after centuries of difficulties. In 1872 he is a sponsor of the “Irish Exhibition” at Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin, which is arranged to promote Irish trade. Correcting a mistake about the exhibition in the Freeman’s Journal leads to a death threat from a religious extremist, which he does not report to the police. In the 1890s he supports the Irish Unionist Alliance.

After withdrawing from the Guinness company in 1876, when he sells his half-share to his brother Edward for £600,000, Guinness is in 1880 raised to the peerage as Baron Ardilaun, of Ashford in County Galway. His home there is at Ashford Castle on Lough Corrib, and his title derives from the Gaelic Ard Oileáin, a ‘high island’ on the lake.

Between 1852 and 1859, Guinness’s father acquires several large Connacht estates that are up for sale. With these purchases, he becomes landlord to 670 tenants. With his father’s death in 1868, Guinness continues in his father’s footsteps, purchasing vast swaths of Galway. When his acquisitions are combined with those of his father, total acreage for the Ashford estate is 33,298 acres, with Guinness owning most of County Galway between Maam (Maum) Bridge and Lough Mask.

Like many in the Guinness family, Guinness is a generous philanthropist, devoting himself to a number of public causes, including the restoration of Marsh’s Library in Dublin and the extension of the city’s Coombe Lying-in Hospital. In buying and keeping intact the estate around Muckross House in 1899, he assists the movement to preserve the lake and mountain landscape around Killarney, now a major tourist destination.

In his best-known achievement, Guinness purchases, landscapes, and donates to the capital, the central public park of St. Stephen’s Green, where his statue commissioned by the city can be seen opposite the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. To do so he sponsors a private bill that is passed as the Saint Stephen’s Green (Dublin) Act 1877, and after the landscaping it is formally opened to the public on July 27, 1880. It has been maintained since then by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, now the Office of Public Works.

Guinness dies on January 20, 1915 at his home at St. Anne’s, Raheny, and is buried at All Saints Church, Raheny, whose construction he had sponsored. Those present at the funeral include representatives of the Royal Dublin Society, of which he is president for many years, the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland, the Irish Unionist Alliance, and the Primrose League. His barony becomes extinct at his death, but the baronetcy devolves upon his nephew Algernon.