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


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Death of Seán MacBride, Politician & Chief of Staff of the IRA

Seán MacBride, Irish government minister, prominent international politician, and a former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies in Dublin at the age of 83 on January 15, 1988.

MacBride is born in Paris on January 26, 1904. He is the son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne. After his father’s execution for his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916, MacBride is sent to school at Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford in Ireland. In 1919, at the age of 15, he joins the Irish Volunteers, which fights as part of the Irish Republican Army, and takes part in the Irish War of Independence. He is imprisoned by the Irish Free State but is released in 1924 and resumes his IRA activities. He returns to Dublin in 1927 and becomes the Director of Intelligence of the IRA.

Toward the end of the 1920s, after many supporters have left the IRA to join Fianna Fáil, some members start pushing for a more left-wing agenda. After the IRA Army Council votes down the idea, MacBride launches a new movement, Saor Éire (“Free Ireland”), in 1931. Although it is a non-military organisation, Saor Éire is declared unlawful along with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, and nine other organizations.

In 1936, MacBride becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA after Moss Twomey is sent to prison for three years. At the time, the movement is in a state of disarray, with conflicts between several factions and personalities. In 1937, he is called to the bar and then resigns from the IRA when the Constitution of Ireland is enacted later that year. As a barrister, he frequently defends IRA political prisoners, but is not unsuccessful in stopping the execution of Charlie Kerins in 1944 who is convicted of killing Garda Detective Dennis O’Brien in 1942. In 1946, during the inquest into the death of Seán McCaughey, he embarrasses the authorities by forcing them to admit that the conditions in Portlaoise Prison are inhumane.

In 1946, MacBride founds the republican/socialist party Clann na Poblachta, hoping it would replace Fianna Fáil as Ireland’s major political party. In October 1947, he wins a seat in Dáil Éireann at a by-election in the Dublin County constituency. However, at the 1948 Irish general election Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats.

MacBride is serving as Minister of External Affairs when the Council of Europe drafts the European Convention on Human Rights. He serves as President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of this convention, which is finally signed in Rome on November 4, 1950. He is instrumental in the implementation of the repeal of the External Relations Act and the passing of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 which comes into force in 1949.

Clann na Poblachta is reduced to only two seats after the 1951 Irish general election. MacBride keeps his seat and is re-elected again at the 1954 Irish general election. Opposing the internment of IRA suspects during the Border Campaign (1956–62), he contests both the 1957 and 1961 Irish general elections but fails to be elected both times. He then retires from politics but continues practicing as a barrister. He expresses interest in running as an independent candidate in the 1983 Irish presidential election, but does not receive sufficient backing and ultimately does not enter the contest.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, MacBride works tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He is a founding member of Amnesty International and serves as its International chairman from 1961 until 1975. During the 1980s, he initiates the Appeal by Lawyers against Nuclear War which is jointly sponsored by the International Peace Bureau and the International Progress Organization.

MacBride is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice.” He later receives the Lenin Peace Prize (1975–76) and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service (1980).

In his later years, MacBride lives in his mother’s home, Roebuck House, that served as a meeting place for many years for Irish nationalists, as well as in the Parisian arrondissement where he grew up with his mother, and enjoyed strolling along boyhood paths. In 1978, he receives the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.

MacBride dies in Dublin on January 15, 1988, just eleven days shy of his 84th birthday. He is buried in a simple grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with his mother, and wife who died in 1976.


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Seán MacBride Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

Seán MacBride, Irish Clann na Poblachta politician who serves as Minister for External Affairs from 1948 to 1951, Leader of Clann na Poblachta from 1946 to 1965 and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from 1936 to 1937, receives the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on December 10, 1974. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1947 to 1957.

Rising from a domestic Irish political career, MacBride founds or participates in many international organisations of the 20th century, including the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, he receives the Lenin Peace Prize for 1975–76 and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service in 1980.

MacBride is awarded the Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of human rights, among other things as one of the founders of Amnesty International. He is described as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice.” In December 1973, he is elected United Nations Commissioner for Namibia, a position he holds until January 1, 1977. In 1974 he is also Chairman of the International Peace Bureau and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

MacBride, nevertheless, has had a violent past. His father is executed following the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish struggle for liberation from Great Britain. He is only 13 when he joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He takes part in the concluding battles of the Irish War of Independence against the British before the Irish Republic is founded in 1921, and in the Irish Civil War that follows. He backs Éamon de Valera in the latter’s refusal to accept Northern Ireland‘s continuing union with England. In the 1930s, he breaks with the IRA and qualifies in law. He defends IRA prisoners in Irish prisons who had been condemned to death.

After World War II he is for a few years Minister for External Affairs for Ireland. He plays a leading part in the establishment of the Council of Europe, and in the preparation of the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

MacBride dies in Dublin on January 15, 1988, eleven days before his 84th birthday. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in a grave with his mother and wife, who died in 1976.


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Mary Robinson Inaugurated 7th President of Ireland

Mary Robinson, Irish lawyer, independent politician, and diplomat born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke, is inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on December 3, 1990, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She later serves as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) from September 1997 – September 2002.

Robinson is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. She is educated at Trinity College and the King’s Inns in Dublin and at Harvard Law School in the United States. She serves at Trinity College (University of Dublin) as Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence (1969–1975) and lecturer in European Community law (1975–1990). In 1988 she and her husband establish the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer and a renowned supporter of human rights, Robinson is elected to the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (1987–1990). She sits in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, for the University of Dublin constituency (1969–1989) and serves as whip for the Labour Party until resigning from the party over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which she feels ignores unionist objections. She is also a member of the Dublin City Council (1979–1983) and runs unsuccessfully in 1977 and 1981 for Dublin parliamentary constituencies.

Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.

Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.

After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.

Robinson is the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 Amnesty International awards her its Ambassador of Conscience Award for her human rights work. In 2009 she receives the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Her memoir, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (cowritten with Tessa Robinson), is published in 2012.

(Pictured: Mary Robinson during her inauguration as president in 1990, photograph by Matt Kavanagh)


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The Ballymurphy Massacre

ballymurphy-massacre-muralThe Ballymurphy Massacre is a series of incidents that take place over a three day period beginning on August 9, 1971, in which the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment of the British Army kill eleven civilians in Ballymurphy, Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of Operation Demetrius. The shootings are later referred to as Belfast’s Bloody Sunday, a reference to the killing of civilians by the same battalion in Derry a few months later.

Two years into The Troubles and Belfast is particularly affected by political and sectarian violence. The British Army had been deployed in Northern Ireland in 1969, as events had grown beyond the control of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

On the morning of Monday, August 9, 1971, the security forces launch Operation Demetrius. The plan is to arrest and intern anyone suspected of being a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The unit selected for this operation is the Parachute Regiment. Members of the Parachute Regiment state that, as they enter the Ballymurphy area, they are shot at by republicans and return fire.

Mike Jackson, later to become head of the British Army, includes a disputed account of the shootings in his autobiography and his then role as press officer for the British Army stationed in Belfast while the incidents happened. This account states that those killed in the shootings were Republican gunmen. This claim has been strongly denied by the Catholic families of those killed in the shootings, in interviews conducted during the documentary film The Ballymurphy Precedent.

In 2016, Sir Declan Morgan, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, recommends an inquest into the killings as one of a series of “legacy inquests” covering 56 cases related to the Troubles.

These inquests are delayed, as funding had not been approved by the Northern Ireland Executive. The former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) defers a bid for extra funding for inquests into historic killings in Northern Ireland, a decision condemned by the human rights group Amnesty International. Foster confirms she had used her influence in the devolved power-sharing executive to hold back finance for a backlog of inquests connected to the conflict. The High Court says her decision to refuse to put a funding paper on the Executive basis was “unlawful and procedurally flawed.”

Fresh inquests into the deaths open at Belfast Coroner’s Court in November 2018 under Presiding Coroner Mrs. Justice Siobhan Keegan. The final scheduled witnesses give evidence on March 2-3, 2020 around the fatal shootings of Father Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn on waste ground close to an army barracks at Vere Foster school in Springmartin on the evening of August 9. Justice Keegan sets a date of March 20 for final written submissions from legal representatives. A decision is still pending.

The killings are the subject of the August 2018 documentary The Ballymurphy Precedent, directed by Callum Macrae and made in association with Channel 4.

(Pictured: A mural in Belfast commemorating the victims of the Ballymurphy Massacre)


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Birth of Radiohead Guitarist Ed O’Brien

ed-obrien-radioheadEdward John O’Brien, English guitarist, member of the alternative rock band Radiohead and grandson of a Tipperary emigrant, is born in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England on April 15, 1968. In 2010, Rolling Stone names him the 59th greatest guitarist of all time. Along with the other members of Radiohead, he is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.

O’Brien grows up listening to post-punk acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Depeche Mode, The Police and David Bowie. His earliest guitar influence is Andy Summers of The Police, particularly his use of delay and chorus effects on “Walking on the Moon.” His other influences include Peter Buck of R.E.M., Paul Weller of The Jam, Johnny Marr of The Smiths, John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Edge of U2. He attends Abingdon School, an independent school for boys, in Oxfordshire, England, where he meets the other members of Radiohead. In 1985, they formed On a Friday, the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in the school’s music room. O’Brien also studies economics at the University of Manchester.

In 1991, On a Friday signs a six-album record contract with EMI and changes their name to Radiohead. They find early success with their 1992 single “Creep“. Their third album, OK Computer (1997), propels them to international fame and is often acclaimed as one of the best albums of all time. O’Brien becomes depressed during the extensive OK Computer tour. After the tour, he returns to Oxford and falls further into depression.

Radiohead’s next albums, Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), are recorded simultaneously and mark a dramatic change in sound, incorporating influences from electronic music, classical music, jazz and krautrock. O’Brien keeps an online diary of Radiohead’s progress during the recording and initially struggles with the band’s change in direction. At the suggestion of Michael Brook, creator of the Infinite Guitar, he begins using sustain units, which allow guitar notes to be sustained infinitely. He combines these with looping and delay effects to create synthesiser-like sounds. By 2011, Radiohead has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.

O’Brien releases solo music under the name EOB. His first solo track, the ambient composition “Santa Teresa,” is released on October 4, 2019. His first solo album, Earth, is announced in December 2019 and is due for release in April 2020 on Capitol Records. Recording for Earth begins in late 2017 and ends in early 2019. It is produced by Flood, Catherine Marks, and Adam “Cecil” Bartlett and is mixed by Alan Moulder, with contributions from drummer Omar Hakim, The Invisible members Nathan East and Dave Okumu, folk singer Laura Marling, Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood. He begins a North American tour in February 2020.

O’Brien lives in London with his wife, Susan Kobrin, who worked for Amnesty International. The couple have a son, Salvador, born in January 2004, and a daughter, Oona, born in 2006. He is a cricket fan and supports Manchester United Football Club. Around 2000, he gives up alcohol and takes up meditation. In 2011, he and his family move to Brazil and live for a year on a farm near Ubatuba. In 2020, he announces that he believes he has contracted COVID-19 but is recovering in isolation.


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The Sallins Train Robbery

The Sallins Train robbery occurs on March 31, 1976 when the Cork to Dublin mail train is robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £200,000 is stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Mick Plunkett, and John Fitzpatrick, are arrested in connection with the robbery.

After the failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” against them, the four are released but are immediately re-arrested. During interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett sign alleged confessions, presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claim are inflicted by members of the Gardaí.

While awaiting trial, Fitzpatrick jumps bail and leaves the country. The trial of McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court becomes the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapses due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court.

Medical evidence of beatings is presented to the court, both during the initial trial and the second trial. The court rejects this evidence, finding that the beatings have been self-inflicted or inflicted by the co-accused. Anticipating a conviction, Kelly flees before the conclusion of the second trial. The three are found guilty, solely on the basis of their confessions, and sentenced to between nine and twelve years in prison. Kelly is sentenced in absentia.

In May 1980, Breatnach and McNally are acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken under duress. The same month, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility for the robbery. Kelly returns to Ireland from the United States in June 1980, expecting to be acquitted. Instead he is incarcerated in the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison and spends the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a 38-day period on hunger strike.

After a campaign by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and others and a song, Wicklow Boy, by the popular folk singer Christy Moore, Kelly is eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984. He is given a presidential pardon in 1992 and receives £1,000,000 in compensation. Breatnach and McNally are also given compensation.


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Birth of Irish Revolutionary Maud Gonne

maud-gonneMaud Gonne, Irish revolutionary, romantic muse for William Butler Yeats, and mother to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Seán MacBride, is born at Tongham, England on December 21, 1866.

Gonne is born into a distinguished and wealthy family, and her father serves as an army captain. Her mother dies of tuberculosis when she is a child, and she and her sister are raised and educated by a French nanny. This cosmopolitan upbringing is furthered by travels throughout Europe with her father, then a military attaché.

In 1884, Gonne’s father dies of typhoid fever and she receives a considerable inheritance. After moving to France to be with her aunt, she meets and falls in love with right wing politician Lucien Millevoye. Though he is already married, he instills Gonne with his political passions. She begins a nearly lifelong fight for Irish freedom from England and the release of political prisoners. She and Millevoye have two children, one of whom survives, before their relationship ends.

Moved by the plight of those evicted in the Land Wars, Gonne continues to campaign for the Irish nationalist cause. While living in Paris, she is introduced to Fenianism by John O’Leary, a veteran of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. In 1889, O’Leary introduces her to a man whose infatuation with her would last most of his life, poet William Butler Yeats. She begins a relationship with Yeats, though she refuses his many marriage proposals. She is the inspiration for many of Yeats’s poems. In 1900, she founds the Daughters of Ireland, which provides a home for Irish nationalist women.

In 1918, Gonne is arrested for being a political agitator. She becomes severely ill in prison and after her release, she begins a crusade for improved conditions for Ireland’s political prisoners. In 1903, she marries Major John MacBride, who had led the Irish Transvaal Brigade against the British in the Second Boer War, in Paris in 1903. After the birth of their son, Seán, Gonne and her husband agree to end their marriage. She demands sole custody of their son but MacBride refuses, and a divorce case begins in Paris on February 28, 1905. The only charge against MacBride substantiated in court is that he was drunk on one occasion during the marriage. A divorce is not granted, and MacBride is given the right to visit his son twice weekly.

The couple’s son, Seán MacBride, is active in politics in Ireland and in the United Nations. He is a founding member and Chairman of Amnesty International and is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

Gonne dies in Clonskeagh on April 27, 1953, at the age of 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Maud Gonne’s autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, is published in 1938.


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Birth of Singer & Political Activist Bob Geldof

Robert Frederick Zenon “Bob” Geldof, singer, songwriter, author, occasional actor, and political activist, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on October 5, 1951.

Geldof attends Blackrock College, though he later says he did not enjoy his time there because of its Catholic ethos and bullying for his lack of rugby prowess and for his middle name, Zenon. After leaving school he gains certain odd jobs but is not inspired by any of them. He then goes to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to work as a music journalist.

Returning to Ireland in 1975, Bob Geldof becomes the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, a rock group closely linked with the punk movement. He famously states the reason for joining a pop band is “to get rich, to get famous, and to get laid.”

By 1978, The Boomtown Rats achieve their first U.K. hit single with Rat Trap and later achieve a second hit with I Don’t Like Mondays.

In 1981, Geldof is invited to take part in a concert for Amnesty International and this sows a seed of future ideas.

In 1984, Geldof moves from being a rock start to international celebrity for raising awareness of humanitarian charities. During that year, Ethiopia and other African countries experience a severe famine which leads to death by starvation for thousands of people. The plight of starving children is widely seen on television and Geldof, along with Midge Ure, decide to do something about it, releasing the single Do They Know It’s Christmas?. It is a spontaneous event with many of the best known names in pop music invited. It becomes an instant best seller selling a record 3 million copies.

In the summer of 1985, Geldof is one of the main organisers behind the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. It is a sixteen hour rock extravaganza aimed at raising money and awareness for Africa. It is a unique musical event capturing the imagination and attention of the world. Following this concert he becomes more involved in work for non-governmental organisations in Africa and becomes one of the leading spokespersons on Third World debt and relief.

In 2005, he organises a Live 8 concert, coinciding with the Make Poverty History campaign. He seeks the co-operation of leading G8 leaders such as Tony Blair to write off Third World debt. Some criticise him for becoming too close to politicians and some argue his presence in the Third World campaign issue does more harm than good.

However, Geldof remains a powerful figurehead for motivating Western attitudes to pay more attention to the problems and challenges of the poorest parts of the world. He feels a passion for improving conditions in Africa.

Geldof is knighted in 1986 and is often affectionately known as “Sir Bob.”


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Birth of Mary Robinson, 1st Female President of Ireland

mary-robinsonMary Therese Winifred Robinson, seventh and first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. Robinson also serves as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 until 2002.

Robinson first rises to prominence as an academic, barrister, campaigner, and member of the Irish Senate (1969–1989). Running as an Independent candidate nominated by the Labour Party, the Workers’ Party, and independent senators, Robinson defeats Fianna Fáil‘s Brian Lenihan and Fine Gael‘s Austin Currie in the 1990 presidential election becoming the first elected president in the office’s history not to have had the support of Fianna Fáil.

Robinson is widely regarded as a transformative figure for Ireland, and for the Irish presidency, revitalising and liberalising a previously conservative, low-profile political office. She resigns the presidency two months before the end of her term in office in order to take up her post in the United Nations. During her UN tenure, she visits Tibet in 1998, the first High Commissioner to do so. She criticises Ireland’s immigrant policy and criticises the use of capital punishment in the United States. She extends her intended single four-year term by a year to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.

After leaving the UN in 2002, Robinson forms Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which comes to a planned end at the end of 2010. Its core activities are fostering equitable trade and decent work, promoting the right to health and more humane migration policies, and working to strengthen women’s leadership and encourage corporate social responsibility. The organisation also supports capacity building and good governance in developing countries. Robinson returns to live in Ireland at the end of 2010, and sets up The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, which aims to be “a centre for thought leadership, education, and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those many victims of climate change who are usually forgotten – the poor, the disempowered, and the marginalised across the world.”

Robinson is Chair of the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Since 2004, she has also been Professor of Practice in International Affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches international human rights. Robinson also visits other colleges and universities where she lectures on human rights. Robinson sits on the Board of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organisation which supports good governance and great leadership in Africa, and is a member of the Foundation’s Ibrahim Prize Committee. Robinson is an Extraordinary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights and the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria. Robinson serves as Oxfam’s honorary president from 2002 until she steps down in 2012 and is the honorary president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation EIUC since 2005. She is Chair of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and is also a founding member and Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders (2003-2009). Robinson was a member of the European members of the Trilateral Commission.

In 2004, she receives Amnesty International‘s Ambassador of Conscience Award for her work in promoting human rights.

In July 2009, Robinson is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States. In presenting the award to Robinson, U.S. President Barack Obama says, “Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. When she traveled abroad as President, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”


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Birth of Former IRA Chief of Staff Seán McBride

sean-macbride

Seán McBride, Irish government minister, prominent international politician, and a former Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Paris on January 26, 1904. He is the son of Major John MacBride and Maud Gonne.

After his father’s execution for his participation in the Easter Rising of 1916, Seán is sent to school at Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford in Ireland. In 1919, at the age of 15, he joins the Irish Volunteers, which fights as part of the Irish Republican Army, and takes part in the Irish War of Independence. He is imprisoned by the Irish Free State but is released in 1924 and resumes his IRA activities. He returns to Dublin in 1927 and becomes the Director of Intelligence of the IRA.

Toward the end of the 1920s, after many supporters have left the IRA to join Fianna Fáil, some members start pushing for a more left-wing agenda. After the IRA Army Council votes down the idea, MacBride launches a new movement, Saor Éire (“Free Ireland”), in 1931. Although it is a non-military organisation, Saor Éire is declared unlawful along with the IRA, Cumann na mBan, and nine other organizations.

In 1936, MacBride becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA after Moss Twomey is sent to prison for three years. At the time, the movement is in a state of disarray, with conflicts between several factions and personalities. In 1937, MacBride is called to the bar and then resigns from the IRA when the Constitution of Ireland is enacted later that year. As a barrister, MacBride frequently defends IRA political prisoners, but is not unsuccessful in stopping the execution of Charlie Kerins in 1944 who is convicted of killing Garda Detective Dennis O’Brien in 1942. In 1946, during the inquest into the death of Seán McCaughey, MacBride embarrasses the authorities by forcing them to admit that the conditions in Portlaoise Prison are inhumane.

In 1946, MacBride founds the republican/socialist party Clann na Poblachta, hoping it would replace Fianna Fáil as Ireland’s major political party. In October 1947, he wins a seat in Dáil Éireann at a by-election in the Dublin County constituency. However, at the 1948 general election Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats.

MacBride is serving as Minister of External Affairs when the Council of Europe drafts the European Convention on Human Rights. He serves as President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from 1949 to 1950 and is credited with being a key force in securing the acceptance of this convention, which is finally signed in Rome on November 4, 1950. He is instrumental in the implementation of the Repeal of the External Relations Act and the Declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

In 1951, Clann na Poblachta is reduced to only two seats after the general election. MacBride keeps his seat and is re-elected again in 1954. Opposing the internment of IRA suspects during the Border Campaign (1956–62), he contests both the 1957 and 1961 general elections but fails to be elected both times. He then retires from politics but continues practicing as a barrister. He expresses interest in running as an independent candidate in the 1983 Irish presidential election, but does not receive sufficient backing and ultimately does not enter the contest.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, MacBride works tirelessly for human rights worldwide. He is a founding member of Amnesty International and serves as its International chairman from 1961 until 1975. During the 1980s, he initiates the Appeal by Lawyers against Nuclear War which is jointly sponsored by the International Peace Bureau and the International Progress Organization.

MacBride is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 as a man who “mobilised the conscience of the world in the fight against injustice.” He later receives the Lenin Peace Prize (1975–76) and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service (1980).

Seán MacBride dies in Dublin on January 15, 1988, just eleven days shy of his 84th birthday. He is buried in a simple grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.