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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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Death of Michael Flannery, Irish Republican Founder of NORAID

Michael Flannery, Irish republican who fought in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, dies in New York City on September 30, 1994. He supports the Provisional Irish Republican Army during The Troubles and is a founder of NORAID.

Flannery is born in Cangort, near Brosna, on the border of County Offaly and County Tipperary, on January 7, 1903.

In 1916 Flannery joins the Irish Volunteers alongside his brother Peter, although he does not take part in the Easter Rising. However, he does participate in the Irish War of Independence. Following the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, he fights as part of the Anti-Treaty IRA until his capture by the National Army on November 11, 1922 in Roscrea, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned for nearly a year and a half in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison (C Wing). While there he witnesses the execution of Anti-Treaty IRA leaders Richard Barrett, Joe McKelvey, Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor from his cell window. Following a 28-day hunger strike, he is placed in the Curragh Camp until May 1, 1924 when he is finally released, a full year after the end of the civil war.

In February 1927 Flannery immigrates to the United States, settling in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York City. In 1928 he marries Margaret Mary Egan, a Tipperary-born research chemist, who had been educated at University College Dublin and University of Geneva.

Following the creation of Fianna Fáil and their entry into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann, Flannery becomes affiliated with Sinn Féin, who had voted to retain their abstentionist policy towards the Dáil and their refusal to acknowledge it as the legitimate government of Ireland. Sinn Féin tasks him with drumming up support for the party in New York. However, following the start of the Great Depression he finds it difficult to focus on politics in the face of mounting poverty. By 1933 finding support for Sinn Féin and the IRA becomes particularly tough when Fianna Fáil expands greatly the range of people eligible for military pensions, which under the previous government had been biased against members of the Anti-Treaty IRA. For the next 40 years Flannery works for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Upon the onset of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Flannery is once again drawn into the world of Irish Republicanism. In a response to the mounting violence, he sets up the Irish Northern Aid Committee, or as it became better known as, NORAID. The official purpose of NORAID is to provide funds to the families of imprisoned Irish Republicans and victims of violence. However, opponents level the accusation against the organisation that it is also providing funding directly to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and perhaps even also supplying firearms.

In 1970 Flannery travels around America and sets up 62 chapters of NORAID. In 1971 he says, “The more coffins sent back to Britain, the sooner this will be all over,” referring to British soldiers.

In 1982 Flannery is indicted, with four other members of NORAID, for arms smuggling, but all defendants are acquitted after their legal defence is able to successfully argue their actions had been sanctioned the CIA.

Four months after the verdict of the arms trial, Flannery is named as Grand Marshal of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. His appointment causes considerable controversy within the Irish American community and several high profile figures boycott the parade that year, including the Archbishop of New York Terence Cooke.

In 1986 Flannery quietly resigns from NORAID following the decision by Sinn Féin to drop its abstentionist policy in the Republic of Ireland and to recognise Dáil Éireann as the legitimate governing body of Ireland.

Flannery opposes the Northern Ireland peace process, believing that Sinn Féin and the Provisionals have “sold out,” and believes the removal of British troops from Northern Ireland is the only starting point upon which negotiations can begin.

Flannery dies at the age of 92 in New York City on September 30, 1994. He is buried in Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York.


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Founding of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome

pontifical-irish-collegeThe Pontifical Irish College, a Roman Catholic seminary for the training and education of priests, is founded in Rome, Italy, on November 6, 1628.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII sanctions the foundation of an Irish college in Rome, and assigns a large sum of money as the nucleus of an endowment. However the pressing needs of the Irish chieftains make him think that, under the circumstances, the money might as well be used for religion by supplying the Irish Catholics with the sinews of war in Ireland as by founding a college for them at Rome.

The project is revived in 1625 by the Irish bishops, in an address to Pope Urban VIII. Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who is Cardinal Protector of Ireland, resolves to realize at his own expense the desire expressed to the pope by the Irish bishops. A house is rented opposite Sant’Isodoro a Capo le Case and six students go into residence January 1, 1628. Eugene Callanan, Archdeacon of Cashel, is the first rector, Father Luke Wadding, OFM being a sort of supervisor. Cardinal Ludovisi dies in 1632 and as he is of a princely family with a large patrimony, he makes provision in his will for the college. It is to have an income of one thousand crowns a year, a house is to be purchased for it, and he leaves a vineyard as Castel Gandolfo where the students might pass their villeggiatura. The cardinal’s will directs that the college should be placed under the charge of the Jesuits. Both the heirs and Wadding suspect that provision and disputed it. A protracted lawsuit is finally decided in 1635 in favour of the Jesuits.

On February 8, 1635, the Jesuits take charge of the college and govern it until financial difficulties force them to give up control in September 1772. An Italian priest, Abbate Luigi Cuccagni, is made rector. The rectorate of Cuccagni comes to an end in 1798, when the college is closed by order of Napoleon.

Dr. Michael Blake, Bishop of Dromore, who is the last student to leave the college at its dissolution in 1798, returns a quarter of a century later to arrange for its revival, which is effected by a brief of Pope Leo XII, dated February 18, 1826. He becomes the first rector of the restored college, and among the first students who seek admission is Francis Mahoney of Cork, known to the literary world as Father Prout. Having set the college well to work, Blake returns to Ireland and is succeeded by Dr. Boylan, of Maynooth, who soon resigns and dies in 1830. He is succeeded by a young priest, later Cardinal Paul Cullen.

Dr. Cullen is succeeded by Dr. Tobias Kirby, known for his holiness of life. He governs the college for more than forty years. His successor is Michael Kelly, later coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sydney.

In 2011, under orders from Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, leads a root and branch review of all structures and processes at the college. He is assisted in the visitation report by then Archbishop of Baltimore and now Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and Msgr. Francis Kelly of the Northern American College in Rome. The report is highly critical of the college and, as a result of which, three Irish members of the staff are sent home and a fourth resigns.

In 2012, four Irish archbishops, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, and Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel, are sent a copy of the visitation report by the Vatican. A response prepared for them says “a deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation and from the outset and it led to the hostile tone and content of the report.”

Today the Pontifical Irish College serves as a residence for clerical students from all over the world. Every year over 250 Irish couples choose the college chapel as a means to marry in Rome. It organises events for the Irish and wider international community who are currently residing in Rome and has over the years become an unofficial centre for Irish visitors to Rome seeking advice and information.