seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Con Cremin, Irish Diplomat

con-creminCornelius Christopher Cremin, Irish diplomat, is born in Kenmare, County Kerry on December 6, 1908.

One of four children, Cremin is born to a family that operates a drapery business. His brother, Francis Cremin, becomes a leading academic canon lawyer who frames a number of key church documents. He is educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney and from 1926 at University College Cork, where he graduates with a first-class degree in Classics and Commerce.

Around 1929 Cremin is awarded the post-graduate University College Cork Honan scholarship. By 1930 he has attained a degree in economics and accountancy. For the following three years he studies in Athens, Munich and Oxford, having attained a traveling scholarship in Classics. He subsequently enters the Department of External Affairs, having succeeded in the competition for third secretary in 1935.

In April 1935 Cremin marries Patricia O’Mahony. His first position in Dublin involves working with Frederick Henry Boland on the League of Nations portfolio. In 1937 he is sent abroad on his first posting to Paris. There he works under the “Revolutionary Diplomat” Art O’Brien, until the latter retires in 1938. Sean Murphy later becomes his Minister. Ireland declares neutrality on the outbreak of World War II and Murphy and Cremin report on the developments in France throughout the Phoney War.

After the fall of France, the Irish legation is the last to leave Paris except for the American Ambassador, on June 11, 1940. After traveling to Ascain the legation eventually makes its way to the new French Capital, Vichy, where it sets about looking after the needs of Irish citizens, many of whom have been interned, as they have British passports and have been sending political reports. The political reports are of the highest value and insure that Irish continue to observe pro-Allied neutrality throughout the war.

In 1943 Cremin is sent to Berlin to replace William Warnock. Prior to his arrival the Legation is bombed. As Chargé d’affaires in Berlin, he is responsible for sending back political reports and looking after the interests of Irish citizens. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to assist some European Jews. He does however send full reports on the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Europe. Warned to leave Berlin before the Soviets arrive, he spends the last weeks of the war near the Swiss border.

In 1945 Cremin is sent to Lisbon, where he meets authoritarian president António de Oliveira Salazar and attempts to revive Irish trade as well as reporting on the various unsuccessful coups against Salazar.

After returning to Ireland in 1946 he is involved in preparing Ireland’s Marshall Plan application and tracing the development of Ireland’s post war foreign policy. He has a distinguished career representing Ireland in many foreign missions and at the United Nations.

After retiring Cremin remains chairman of the Irish delegation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. After his first wife dies he marries again in 1979. He dies in Kenmare on April 19, 1987, survived by his wife, three daughters, and a son.

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Opening of Assembly’s College, Belfast

assemblys-college-belfastAssembly’s College, Belfast, opens for the training of Presbyterian clergy on December 5, 1853.

The Renaissance Revival style building with its grand Doric porch and Baroque attic is designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, the architect of the main building at Queen’s University Belfast and built with Scrabo stone at a cost of £5,000. Jean-Henri Merle d’Aubigné of Geneva participates in the opening ceremony alongside Henry Cooke, President of the Faculty. The five other professors in the new college are John Edgar, Robert Wilson, William Dool Killen, James G. Murphy and William Gibson.

There is a large influx of students in the wake of the 1859 Ulster revival and the south wing with its dining hall and student accommodations is added in 1869. Princeton Theological Seminary has an important influence in the shaping of the ethos of the College during this period as the Reverend Roberts Watts, who is appointed Professor of Systematic Theology in 1866, hopes to make “Belfast another Princeton.” The north wing with its wood-panelled chapel is designed by John Lanyon, son of original architect, and completed in 1881. The first degrees under the Royal Charter are conferred in 1883. However, the death of Watts in 1895 marks the beginning of the end of the Princetonian influence. A partial union takes place between the faculties in Belfast and Magee in 1922.

The newly formed Parliament of Northern Ireland meets in Assembly’s College from 1921 until 1932 while Stormont is being built with the House of Commons meeting in the Gamble Library and the Senate in the College chapel. During this period the College conducts classes in a house and provides library resources in a house on University Square. In 1926 the College becomes a Recognised College of Queen’s University. During this period the College comes under criticism for its embrace of theological liberalism. This culminates in a charge of heresy being brought against Professor James Ernest Davey in 1926-27. The College officially reopens in October 1932 and the inaugural lecture is delivered by the Scottish Historian Robert Rait.

Between 1941 and 1948 the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the city police, use the College as its own headquarters are bombed in the Belfast Blitz. In 1953, to mark the College’s centenary year, Prof. Davey is elected Moderator of the General Assembly.

In 1976 theological teaching at Magee College in Derry, County Londonderry, ceases and the two colleges amalgamate in 1978. The new college, constituted by an Act of Parliament, is named Union Theological College.

Today Union Theological College offers a full range of courses in Theology. The professors of the College constitute the Presbyterian Theological Faculty Ireland (PTFI) which was granted a Royal Charter in 1881 to confer academic degrees. The PTFI still awards degrees, diplomas and certificates. The majority of students are enrolled for degrees and diplomas, undergraduate and postgraduate, through the Institute of Theology of the Queen’s University of Belfast, in particular the BTh, BD, MTh and PhD.


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Death of Historian Richard Bagwell

richard-bagwell-ireland-under-the-tudorsRichard Bagwell, noted historian of the Stuart and Tudor periods in Ireland and a political commentator with strong Unionist convictions, dies on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is the eldest son of John Bagwell, M.P. for Clonmel from 1857 to 1874. His son John Philip Bagwell follows the family tradition in politics becoming a Senator in the government of the Irish Free State in 1923.

Bagwell is educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford in England and is called to the Bar, being admitted to Inner Temple in 1866. He serves as a special local government commissioner (1898–1908) and as a commissioner of national education (1905–18).

As a historian of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ireland, Bagwell works for nearly sixty years to produce his two three-volume works, Ireland under the Tudors (1885–90) and Ireland under the Stuarts (1909–16), using manuscript sources throughout. He is the first to treat this period in a systematic and scholarly fashion. For this solid work he is made Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) and honoured by the University of Dublin and the University of Oxford in 1918. He also writes the historical entry on “Ireland” for the Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago 1911).

A one-time liberal, Bagwell is a founder member (1885) of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, renamed the Irish Unionist Alliance (IUA) in 1891. A “diehard” unionist, he is one of the most prominent and respected southern unionists. A tireless political publicist, he is an assiduous letter-writer to the newspapers, a didactic pamphleteer, and a regular speaker at political meetings throughout Ireland. He opposes the majority report of the Irish Convention (1917) and is one of the original signatories of the “Call to unionists” that splits the IUA.

Bagwell serves as a Commissioner on National Education between 1905 and 1918 and a member of the Patriotic Union (Southern Unionists). He holds the position of High Sheriff of Tipperary in 1869. He is a Justice of the Peace for County Tipperary, and later for County Waterford, and holds the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Tipperary. He is also Special Local Government Commissioner between 1898 and 1903 and President of the Borstal Association of Ireland.

Bagwell marries Harriet Philippa Joscelyn, fourth daughter of P. J. Newton of Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, on January 9, 1873. The couple has one son, John Philip Bagwell, and three daughters, Emily Georgiana, Margaret and Lilla Minnie.

Richard Bagwell dies one hundred years ago today on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, having suffered from gout for many years.


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Birth of American-Irish Writer Morgan Llywelyn

morgan-llywelynMorgan Llywelyn, American-Irish historical fantasy, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction writer, is born Sally Snyder in New York City on December 3, 1937. Her fiction has received several awards and has sold more than 40 million copies, and she herself is recipient of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year Award from Celtic Women International.

In her teens, Llywelyn moves to the Dallas area, where she develops a love of horses. By the age of 16, she is competing in professional horse shows across the United States. By age 18, she models for Neiman Marcus and Arthur Murray. After 15 years of experience as a horse trainer and instructor, she tries out for and narrowly misses making the 1976 United States Olympic Team in Dressage. She is instead shortlisted, missing the cut off score by .05 percent.

With her mother’s encouragement and a successfully published article on horse training, she refocuses her efforts in tracing the Llywelyn family history and eventually makes a career out of writing historical novels that allow the exploration of her Celtic roots. In reference to this career change, Llywelyn has this to say:

“I have a strong strain of Welsh on my mother’s side, which does indeed go back to Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. And Llywelyn the Great! (We have the proven genealogy from the College of Heralds.) She was very proud of her royal Welsh connection. That is why she was so interested in genealogy in the first place, and inspired me to get involved as well … leading in turn to “The Wind from Hastings.” But both my parents were predominantly Irish – my father totally so – and I spent half the years of my childhood here. So I have always been much more interested in Ireland and its history and legends.”

Llywelyn has received several awards for her works. She receives the Novel of the Year Award from the National League of American Pen Women for her novel, The Horse Goddess, as well as the Woman of the Year Award from the Irish-American Heritage Committee for Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish. The latter award is presented to her by Ed Koch, then-mayor of New York City.

Although Llywelyn’s grandparents have their roots in Ireland, it is only after the death of her parents and her husband in 1985 that she relocates to Ireland. Llywelyn now lives outside Dublin and has become an Irish citizen.

In 1990, Llywelyn begins her focus on writing books geared for younger readers. These works start with Brian Boru: Emperor of the Irish, for which she wins an Irish Children’s Book Trust Bisto Award in 1991, and includes other titles, such as Strongbow: The Story of Richard and Aoife, for which she wins a Bisto Award in the Historical Fiction category, 1993 and the Reading Association of Ireland Award, 1993, and Star Dancer which departs from her usual Celtic topic and is centered on her experiences with Dressage. Further works include The Vikings in Ireland, an exploration of when the Norsemen arrived in Ireland and Pirate Queen, a younger reader’s version of the story of Grace O’Malley, told through letters from Granuaile to her beloved son.


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Death of Jim Mitchell, Fine Gael Politician

jim-mitchellJim Mitchell, senior Irish politician who serves in the cabinets of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, loses his three-year battle with cancer in Dublin on December 2, 2002.

Mitchell begins his political involvement when he supports Seán MacBride, leader of the radical republican Clann na Poblachta in the 1957 general election. He joins Fine Gael in 1967, becoming that party’s unsuccessful candidate in a by-election in 1970. He seeks a party nomination to run in the 1973 Irish general election. However he agrees not to contest the seat to allow Declan Costello, a senior figure in his party and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, to be elected. Costello goes on to serve as Attorney General of Ireland in the 1973-1977 National Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Mitchell is elected to Dublin Corporation in 1974. In 1976, at the age of 29, he becomes the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Dublin. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann in the 1973 general election in Dublin South-West and loses again in the 1976 by-election in the same constituency, to Labour’s Brendan Halligan.

In the 1977 general election he is elected to the 21st Dáil for the new constituency of Dublin Ballyfermot. With the party’s loss of power in 1977, the new leader, Garret FitzGerald appoints Mitchell to the Party’s Front Bench as spokesman on Labour. At the 1981 general election Mitchell is elected for the Dublin West and Fine Gael dramatically increases its number of seats, forming a coalition government with the Labour Party. On his appointment as Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald causes some surprise by excluding some of the older conservative ex-ministers from his cabinet. Instead young liberals like Mitchell are appointed, with Mitchell receiving the high profile post of Minister for Justice, taking responsibility for policing, criminal and civil law reform, penal justice, etc. The Fine Gael-Labour government collapses in January 1982, but regains power in December of that year. Mitchell again is included in a FitzGerald cabinet, as Minister for Transport.

As Minister for Transport, Mitchell grants the aviation license to a fledgling airline called Ryanair on November 29, 1985. This is granted despite strong opposition by Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus. The issue of the license breaks Aer Lingus’ stranglehold on flights to London from the Republic of Ireland.

Mitchell, who is seen as being on the social liberal wing of Fine Gael, is out of favour with John Bruton when he becomes Fine Gael leader in 1990. When Bruton forms the Rainbow Coalition in December 1994, Mitchell is not appointed to any cabinet post.

Mitchell contests and wins Dáil elections in 1977, 1981, (February and November) 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997. He runs for his party as its candidate to become a member of the European Parliament in the 1994 and 1998 elections. He also is director of elections for Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, in the 1990 presidential election.

In 2001, Bruton is deposed as Fine Gael leader and replaced by Michael Noonan. Mitchell serves as his deputy from 2001 to 2002. He also chairs the key Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s work under his chairmanship is widely praised for its inquiry into allegations of corruption and wide-scale tax evasion in the banking sector.

Though regarded in politics as one of Fine Gael’s “survivors,” who holds onto his seat amid major boundary changes, constituency changes and by attracting working class votes in a party whose appeal is primarily middle class, Mitchell loses his Dublin Central seat in the 2002 general election. That election witnesses a large scale collapse in the Fine Gael vote, with the party dropping from 54 to 31 seats in Dáil Éireann. Although Mitchell suffers from the swing against Fine Gael in Dublin, he is not aided by the fact that Inchicore, which is considered his base in the constituency has been moved to Dublin South-Central. He chooses not to run in that constituency as his brother, Gay, is a sitting Teachta Dála (TD) running for re-election for that constituency.

Mitchell earlier has a liver transplant in an attempt to beat a rare form of cancer which had cost the lives of a number of his siblings. Though the operation is successful, the cancer returns. Although he appears to be making a recovery, Jim Mitchell ultimately dies of the disease on December 2, 2002.

His former constituency colleague and rival, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, describes Jim Mitchell as having made an “outstanding contribution to Irish politics.”


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The Londonderry Tragedy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most tragic events of the Great Famine occurs on December 1, 1848 when 72 people suffocate in the small aft cabin of the paddle steamer Londonderry, which often sails between Sligo and Liverpool.

One hundred seventy-two men, women, and children, mostly impoverished farmers from County Mayo and County Sligo, and their families, fleeing the ravages of the Great Famine, board the Londonderry in Sligo in late November. As the steamer is approaching Derry on the first leg of its journey to England, a sudden storm prompts Captain Alexander Johnstone to order his crew to force all the passengers into a small aft cabin, measuring about eighteen feet in length and, at most, twelve feet wide. The situation is exacerbated when the only ventilation available is covered with a tarpaulin to ensure that water does not get into the cabin. As a result, many of the passengers begin to suffocate.

The captain seeks refuge from the storm in the harbour at Derry on December 1. When the hatches of the Londonderry are opened it reveals a horrific scene. The corpses of 31 women, 23 men and 18 children are found in the grossly overcrowded hold. Soldiers are called to the docks as public rage intensifies. The public outcry that follows belatedly forces the British government to publish guidelines for the safe transport of Irish Immigrants, too late unfortunately for the victims of the coffin ship Londonderry.

After the tragic voyage, the master and two mates are arrested. During an inquest, survivors accuse the Scottish crew of being cruel and savage. The captain says that he had given orders for the decks to be cleared for the passengers’ safety while the storm raged.

The coroner’s jury returns a verdict of manslaughter, commenting that more consideration was shown to the cattle than the passengers entrusted to their care.

In 1996 six coffins are found by workmen on a building site in the Waterside area of Derry, in grounds close to the former workhouse. They are believed to be the remains of some of the poverty-stricken travelers from the ill-fated paddle steamer.

(Pictured: The Great Hunger Plaque, Derry, near Derry County Borough, Derry, Clooney Park, Creggan and Boom Hall)


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)