seamus dubhghaill

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


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State Visit of U.S. President John F. Kennedy

jfk-state-visitJohn F. Kennedy, an Irish American and the first Catholic to become president of the United States, arrives in Ireland on a state visit on June 26, 1963. After Air Force One touches down at Dublin airport, Kennedy’s motorcade weaves through the streets of Dublin city, the thrilled crowd, lacking ticker tape, improvises by throwing rolls of bus tickets.

Kennedy is proud of his Irish roots and makes a special visit to his ancestral home in Dunganstown, County Wexford, while in the country. There, he is greeted by a crowd waving both American and Irish flags and is serenaded by a boys choir that sings The Boys of Wexford. Kennedy breaks away from his bodyguards and joins the choir for the second chorus, prompting misty-eyed reactions from both observers and the press.

Kennedy meets with 15 members of his extended Irish family at the Kennedy homestead in Dunganstown. There he enjoys a cup of tea and some cake and makes a toast to “all those Kennedys who went and all those Kennedys who stayed.” His great-grandfather, Thomas Fitzgerald, had left Ireland for the United States in the middle of the Great Famine of 1848 and settled in Boston, becoming a cooper. Generations of his descendants go on to make their mark on American politics.

At the time of JFK’s visit to Ireland, the predominantly Catholic Irish Republic has been an independent nation for 41 years. The northern counties of the island, however, remain part of the largely Protestant British Empire and still suffer from long-standing sectarian violence. On the day after his arrival in Dublin, Kennedy speaks before the Irish parliament, where he openly condemns Britain’s history of persecuting Irish Catholics. Two days later, he travels to England, America’s oldest ally, to meet with British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan and his cabinet to discuss setting up a pro-democratic regime in British Guiana.

Kennedy later tells his aides that his favourite part of the trip was the wreath laying and silent funeral drill done by the Irish Army cadets at Arbour Hill military cemetery in Dublin.

Five months later, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, makes a special request to the Irish government. She asks that those same Irish army cadets, who so impressed the President on his visit, perform the drill again at his state funeral. Within days, those awe-stuck, trembling young men stand just inches away from foreign dignitaries from over 90 countries and perform their silent funeral drill in memory of a president that had inspired their country just a few short months earlier.


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Bernadette Devlin Elected MP for Mid Ulster Constituency

Bernadette Devlin, Irish socialist and republican political activist, is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Mid Ulster constituency on April 17, 1969, standing as the Independent Unity candidate.

Devlin is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone to a Roman Catholic family and attends St. Patrick’s Girls Academy in Dungannon. She is studying Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in 1968 when she takes a prominent role in a student-led civil rights organisation, People’s Democracy. Devlin is subsequently excluded from the university.

She stands unsuccessfully against James Chichester-Clark in the Northern Ireland general election of 1969. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, dies, she fights the subsequent by-election on the “Unity” ticket, defeating Forrest’s widow Anna, the Ulster Unionist Party candidate, and is elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. At age 21, she is the youngest MP at the time, and remains the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster until the May 2015 general election when 20-year-old Mhairi Black succeeds to the title.

After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside, she is convicted of incitement to riot in December 1969, for which she serves a short jail term.

Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin is infuriated that she is consistently denied the floor in the House of Commons by the Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, despite the fact that parliamentary convention decrees that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it. Devlin slaps Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary in the Conservative government, across the face when he states in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.

Devlin helps to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin, with Seamus Costello in 1974. She serves on the party’s national executive in 1975, but resigns when a proposal that the Irish National Liberation Army become subordinate to the party executive is defeated. In 1977, she joins the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbands the following year.

Devlin stands as an independent candidate in support of the prisoners at Long Kesh prison in the 1979 European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland and wins 5.9% of the vote. She is a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supports the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.

On January 16, 1981, Devlin and her husband, Michael McAliskey, are shot by members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who break into their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. Devlin is shot fourteen times in front of her children. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. The couple are taken by helicopter to a hospital in nearby Dungannon for emergency treatment and then transported to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. The attackers, all three members of the South Belfast UDA, are captured by the army patrol and subsequently jailed.

In 1982, she twice fails in an attempt to be elected to the Dublin North–Central constituency of Dáil Éireann. In 2003, she is barred from entering the United States and is deported on the grounds that the United States Department of State has declared that she “poses a serious threat to the security of the United States,” apparently referring to her conviction for incitement to riot in 1969.

On May 12, 2007, she is the guest speaker at éirígí‘s first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin. She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.


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Roger Casement’s Remains Returned to the Republic of Ireland

roger-casementIrish patriot Roger Casement‘s body is returned to Ireland from the United Kingdom on February 23, 1965, forty-nine years after his execution for treason.

In October 1914, Roger Casement sails for Germany where he spends most of his time seeking to recruit an Irish Brigade from among more than 2,000 Irish prisoners-of-war taken in the early months of World War I and held in the prison camp of Limburg an der Lahn. His plan is that they will be trained to fight against Britain in the cause of Irish independence.

In April 1916, Germany offers the Irish 20,000 Mosin–Nagant 1891 rifles, ten machine guns and accompanying ammunition, but no German officers. It is a fraction of the quantity of arms that Casement has hoped. Casement does not learn of the Easter Rising until after the plan is fully developed. The German weapons never land in Ireland as the Royal Navy intercepts the ship transporting them.

In the early hours of April 21, 1916, three days before the beginning of the rising, Casement is taken by a German submarine and is put ashore at Banna Strand in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. Suffering from a recurrence of malaria and too weak to travel, he is discovered at McKenna’s Fort in Rathoneen, Ardfert, and arrested on charges of treason, sabotage, and espionage against the Crown. He is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Casement’s trial for treason is highly publicized and he is ultimately convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He unsuccessfully appeals the conviction and death sentence. Among the many people who plead for clemency are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W. B. Yeats, and George Bernard Shaw.

On the day of his execution, Casement is again received into the Catholic Church at his request. He is attended by two Irish Catholic priests, Dean Timothy Ring and Father James Carey, from the East London parish of St. Mary and St. Michael’s. Casement is hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on August 3, 1916. His body is buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery at the rear of the prison.

roger-casement-glasnevin-graveDuring the decades after his execution, many formal requests for repatriation of Casement’s remains are refused by the U.K. government. Finally, February 23, 1965, Casement’s remains are repatriated to the Republic of Ireland. Casement’s last wish, to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast, in what is now Northern Ireland, may never be satisfied as U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s government releases the remains only on condition that they can not be brought into Northern Ireland, as “the government feared that a reburial there could provoke Catholic celebrations and Protestant reactions.”

Casement’s remains lay in state at Arbour Hill in Dublin for five days, during which time an estimated half a million people file past his coffin. After a state funeral on March 1, the remains are buried with full military honours in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, with other militant republican heroes. The President of the Republic of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, who is in his mid-eighties and the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defies the advice of his doctors and attends the ceremony, along with an estimated 30,000 others.