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


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U.S. Senate Inquiry into the RMS Titanic Sinking

william-alden-smithThe April 15, 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, the trans-Atlantic passenger liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, results in an inquiry by the United States Senate, which begins at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City  on April 19, 1912. Chaired by Senator William Alden Smith (R-Michigan), the inquiry is a subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce. The hearings later move to the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. and conclude on May 25, 1912 with a return visit to New York.

Seven senators serve on the subcommittee, with three Republicans and three Democrats in addition to Smith as chair. The other six senators are Jonathan Bourne (R-Oregon), Theodore E. Burton (R-Ohio), Duncan U. Fletcher (D-Florida), Francis G. Newlands (D-Nevada), George Clement Perkins (R-California), and Furnifold McLendel Simmons (D-North Carolina). The composition of the subcommittee is carefully chosen to represent the conservative, moderate and liberal wings of the two parties.

During 18 days of official investigations, punctuated by recesses, testimony is recorded from over 80 witnesses. These include surviving passengers and crew members, as well as captains and crew members of other ships in the vicinity, expert witnesses, and various officials and others involved in receiving and transmitting the news of the disaster. The evidence submitted varies from spoken testimony and questioning, to the deposition of correspondence and affidavits. Subjects covered include the ice warnings received, the inadequate (but legal) number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, RMS Titanic‘s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship.

The final report is presented to the United States Senate on May 28, 1912. It is nineteen pages long and includes 44 pages of exhibits, and summarises 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits. Its recommendations, along with those of the British inquiry that concludes on July 3, 1912, lead to many changes in safety practices following the disaster.

The report is strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that RMS Titanic‘s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlights the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard the ship and more generally in the shipping industry and the British Board of Trade. However, it does not find the International Mercantile Marine Company, an American consortium, or the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could thus only be categorised as an “act of God.”

The inquiry is heavily criticised in Britain, both for its conduct and for Smith’s style of questioning. Many newspapers publish scathing editorial cartoons depicting Smith in unflattering terms. The British government is also hostile towards the inquiry. The British Ambassador to the United States, James Bryce, demands that President William Howard Taft dissolve the committee and refuses to recognise its jurisdiction.

Some British writers, however, applaud the inquiry. G. K. Chesterton contrasts the American objective of maximum openness with what he calls Britain’s “national evil,” which he describes as being to “hush everything up; it is to damp everything down; it is to leave the great affair unfinished, to leave every enormous question unanswered.” The American reaction is also generally positive. The American press welcomes Smith’s findings and accepts his recommendations, commending the senator for establishing the key facts of the disaster.

(Pictured: U.S. Senator William Alden Smith, chairman of the Senate inquiry into the RMS Titanic disaster)

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Birth of Patrick McGilligan, Fine Gael Politician

patrick-mcgilliganPatrick Joseph McGilligan, lawyer and Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Hanover Place, Coleraine, County Londonderry on April 12, 1889. He serves as the 14th Attorney General of Ireland from 1954 to 1957, Minister for Finance from 1948 to 1951, Minister for External Affairs from 1927 to 1932 and Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1924 to 1932. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1923 to 1965.

McGilligan is the son of Patrick McGilligan, a draper, who serves as Member of Parliament (MP) for South Fermanagh from 1892 to 1895 for the Irish Parliamentary Party, and Catherine O’Farrell. He is educated at St. Columb’s College in Derry, Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare and University College Dublin. He joins Sinn Féin but is unsuccessful in his attempt to be elected as a MP at the 1918 general election. He is called to the bar in 1921.

McGilligan is elected as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for the National University of Ireland at a by-election held on November 3, 1923. Between 1924 and 1932 he serves as Minister for Industry and Commerce, notably pushing through the Shannon hydroelectric scheme, then the largest hydroelectricity project in the world. In 1927 he sets up the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and also the Agricultural Credit Corporation.

Also in 1927 McGilligan takes over the External Affairs portfolio following the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty elements of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), in revenge for O’Higgins’ support for the execution of Republican prisoners during the Irish Civil War. In this position he is hugely influential at the Committee on the Operation of Dominion Legislation and at the Imperial Conference in 1930 jointly with representatives of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The Statute of Westminster that emerges from these meetings gives greater power to dominions in the Commonwealth like the Irish Free State.

During McGilligan’s period in opposition from 1932 to 1948 he builds up a law practice and becomes professor of constitutional and international law at University College, Dublin. When the National University of Ireland representation is transferred to Seanad Éireann in 1937, he is elected as TD for the Dublin North-West constituency.

In 1948 McGilligan is appointed Minister for Finance in the first Inter-Party Government. As Minister he undertakes some major reforms. He instigates a new approach where Government invests radically in capital projects. Colleagues however complain of his frequent absence from the Cabinet table and the difficulty of contacting him at the Department of Finance. Between 1954 and 1957 he serves as Attorney General. He retires from Dáil Éireann at the 1965 general election, having served for over 40 years.

Patrick McGilligan dies in Dublin on November 15, 1979. Despite his well-known fondness for predicting that he would die young, he reaches the age of ninety. A later Attorney General, John M. Kelly, in the preface to his definitive text, The Irish Constitution (1980), notes the remarkable number of senior judges who are former students of McGilligan and suggests that, given his own firm belief in the value of judicial review, he deserves much of the credit for the remarkable development of Irish law in this field since the early 1960s.


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Birth of Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan

charles-edward-trevelyanSir Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, KCB, British civil servant and colonial administrator, is born in Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdom on April 2, 1807.

Trevelyan is the son of a Cornish clergyman, the Venerable George Trevelyan, who becomes Archdeacon of Taunton, and his wife Harriet, daughter of Sir Richard Neave. As a young man, he works with the colonial government in Calcutta, India. In the late 1850s and 1860s he serves there in senior-level appointments.

Trevelyan’s most enduring mark on history may be the quasi-genocidal anti-Irish racial sentiment he expresses during his term in the critical position of administrating relief to the millions of Irish peasants suffering under the Great Famine, an Gorta Mór, as Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury (1840–1859) under the Whig administration of Lord John Russell.

During the height of the famine Trevelyan deliberately drags his feet in disbursing direct government food and monetary aid to the Irish due to his strident belief in laissez-faire economics and the free hand of the market. In a letter to an Irish peer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, he describes the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God” and writes that “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

Trevelyan never expresses remorse for his comments, even after the full dreadful scope of the Irish famine becomes known. His defenders claim that other factors than Trevelyan’s personal acts and beliefs are more central to the problem.

Sir Charles Trevelyan dies at the age of 70 at 67 Eaton Square, London, on June 19, 1886.

Trevelyan is referred to in the modern Irish folk song The Fields of Athenry about an Gorta Mór. For his actions, or lack thereof, during the Great Famine, he is commonly considered one of the most detested figures in Irish history, along with the likes of Oliver Cromwell.


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The Funeral of Hugh Coveney

hugh-coveneyThe funeral of Hugh Coveney, politician and former Lord Mayor of Cork, takes place at St. Michael’s Church in Blackrock, Cork on March 18, 1998.

Coveney is born into one of Cork‘s prosperous “merchant prince” families on July 20, 1935. He is educated at Christian Brothers College, Cork, Clongowes Wood College and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. He works as a chartered quantity surveyor before entering politics.

Coveney is interested in yachting throughout most of his adult life. His yacht Golden Apple of The Sun, designed by Cork-based designer Ron Holland, is a successful competitor in the Admiral’s Cup in the 1970s. A later 50-foot yacht, Golden Apple, is used by the family for the “Sail Chernobyl” project. The family sails around the world to raise €650,000 for Chernobyl Children’s Project International, a charity which offers assistance to children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Coveney is Lord Mayor of Cork from 1982 to 1983. He is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South–Central constituency at the 1981 general election. He loses his seat in the first general election of 1982 but regains it in the second election in the same year. He loses his seat again in the 1987 general election and does not contest the 1992 general election. He is elected to the Dáil again in 1994 in a by-election.

Coveney is first appointed to the Cabinet in 1994 under John Bruton. He is appointed Minister for Defence and Minister for the Marine. However, he is demoted to a junior ministry the following year after allegations of improper contact with businessmen.

In March 1998 it becomes publicly known that the Moriarty Tribunal has questioned Coveney about whether he had a secret offshore account with Ansbacher Bank, a bank which had become notorious for facilitating tax evasion. Ten days later, on March 13, 1998, Coveney visits his solicitor to change his will. The following day, he dies in a fall from a seaside cliff while out walking alone. His son, Simon Coveney, insists that his father had never held an Ansbacher account. It later emerges that Hugh Coveney had $175,000 on deposit in the secret Cayman Islands-based bank. The account was closed in 1979.

Simon Coveney is later elected to succeed his father in the resulting by-election on November 3, 1998.


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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Death of John Redmond, Politician & Barrister

john-edward-redmondJohn Edward Redmond, Irish nationalist politician, barrister, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, dies on March 6, 1918 in London, England. He is best known as leader of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) from 1900 until his death. He is also leader of the paramilitary organisation the National Volunteers.

Redmond is born to an old prominent Catholic family in Kilrane, County Wexford on September 1, 1856. Several relatives are politicians. He takes over control of the minority IPP faction loyal to Charles Stewart Parnell after Parnell dies in 1891. He is a conciliatory politician who achieves the two main objectives of his political life: party unity and, in September 1914, the passing of the Irish Home Rule Act.

The Irish Home Rule Act grants limited self-government to Ireland, within the United Kingdom. However, implementation of Home Rule is suspended by the outbreak of the World War I. Redmond calls on the National Volunteers to join Irish regiments of the New British Army and support the British and Allied war effort to restore the “freedom of small nations” on the European continent, thereby to also ensure the implementation of Home Rule after a war that is expected to be of short duration. However, after the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish public opinion shifts in favour of militant republicanism and full Irish independence, resulting in his party losing its dominance in Irish politics.

In sharp contrast to Parnell, Redmond lacks charisma. He works well in small committees, but has little success in arousing large audiences. Parnell had always chosen the nominees to Parliament. Now they are selected by the local party organisations, giving Redmond numerous weak MPs over whom he has little control. He is an excellent representative of the old Ireland, but grows increasingly old-fashioned because he pays little attention to the new forces attracting younger Irishmen, such as Sinn Féin in politics, the Gaelic Athletic Association in sports, and the Gaelic League in cultural affairs.

Redmond never tries to understand the unionist forces emerging in Ulster. He is further weakened in 1914 by the formation of the Irish Volunteers by Sinn Féin members. His enthusiastic support for the British war effort alienates many Irish nationalists. His party has been increasingly hollowed out, and a major crisis, notably the Easter Rising, is enough to destroy it.

Redmond is increasingly eclipsed by ill-health after 1916. An operation in March 1918 to remove an intestinal obstruction appears to progress well initially, but he then suffers heart failure. He dies a few hours later at a London nursing home on March 6, 1918.

Condolences and expressions of sympathy are widely expressed. After a funeral service in Westminster Cathedral his remains are interred, as requested in a manner characteristic of the man, in the family vault at the old Knights Templars‘ chapel yard of Saint John’s Cemetery, Wexford, amongst his own people rather than in the traditional burial place for Irish statesmen and heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery. The small, neglected cemetery near the town centre is kept locked to the public. His vault, which has been in a dilapidated state, has been only partially restored by Wexford County Council.


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UCC Students Protest Henry Kissinger Visit

kissingers-arrival-in-dublinFormer United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visits University College Cork (UCC) on February 27, 2002 where he is confronted by more than 400 angry students protesting his presence.

The protesters chant and wave banners bearing the slogan “The Milosevic of Manhattan” prior to the arrival of the 56th U.S. Secretary of State, who was in office during the controversial administration of Richard Nixon. Kissinger says he is pleased to discover that even in Ireland people are not indifferent to him. However, he denies being a war criminal claiming it is an insult to human intelligence for protesters in Cork to compare him with Slobodan Milošević.

“These people are throwing around allegedly criminal charges without a shred of real evidence. I don’t know who they represent but I wish their knowledge equalled their passion.”

Kissinger, who is visiting the university to deliver a speech at an MBA Association of Ireland business conference, says he has never replied to derogatory remarks in the media. He adds, “I consider them (the accusations) fundamentally beneath contempt. They are based on distortions and misrepresentations.”

The focus of Kissinger’s address is on United States foreign policy particularly in aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Kissinger says the international scene is experiencing an extraordinary period of change for which there is no historical precedent. One of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. administration, he says, is to bring countries together to prevent the spread of biological and chemical weapons.

Kissinger’s visit is condemned by human rights organisations who claim he flouted international law in his dealings with Bangladesh, Chile and East Timor. Cork Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan O’Brien tells an earlier council meeting that Kissinger is not welcome in the city, and calls on UCC to cancel his invitation.