seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of John McCormack, Renowned Irish Tenor

Papal Count John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS, Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control, dies in Booterstown, Dublin, on September 16, 1945.

McCormack is born on June 14, 1884, in Athlone, County Westmeath, the second son and fifth of the 11 children of Andrew McCormack and his wife Hannah Watson. His parents are both from Galashiels, Scotland, and work at the Athlone Woolen Mills, where his father is a foreman. He is baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, on June 23, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone and later attends Summerhill College, Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peter’s Church in Athlone under his choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. He marries Lily Foley in 1906 and they have two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In March 1904, McCormack becomes associated with James Joyce, who at the time has singing ambitions himself. He persuades Joyce to enter the Feis Ceoil that year, where the not yet famous writer is awarded the Bronze Medal.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini, father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini, in Milan. Sabatini finds McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrates on perfecting his breath control, an element that becomes part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist.

In 1906, McCormack makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year, he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909, he begins his career in the United States.

In February 1911, McCormack plays Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert‘s opera Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year, he tours Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engages him, then at the height of his operatic career, aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season. He returns for concert tours in subsequent years.

By 1912, McCormack is beginning to become involved increasingly with concert performances, where his voice quality and charisma ensures that he becomes the most celebrated lyric tenor of his time. He does not, however, retire from the operatic stage until after his performance of 1923 in Monte Carlo, although by then the top notes of his voice have contracted. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he can sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart‘s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing is just as impressive in this regard.

McCormack makes hundreds of recordings, his best-known and most commercially successful series of records being those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He is Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. In the 1920s, he sings regularly on radio and later appears in two sound films, Song o’ My Heart (1930), playing an Irish tenor, and as himself appearing in a party scene in Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British three-strip Technicolor feature.

McCormack is one of the first artists to record the popular ballad “I Hear You Calling Me” written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. He records it twice for Odeon Records starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927, becoming his best seller. He is the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914. He also records a best-selling version of another popular World War I tune, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” in 1917. He also sings songs expressive of Irish nationalism and endorses the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He is associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms),” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” Between 1914 and 1922, he records almost two dozen songs with violin accompaniment provided by Fritz Kreisler, with whom he also tours. He records songs of Hugo Wolf for the Hugo Wolf Society in German. In 1918, he records the song “Calling Me Home to You.”

In 1917, McCormack becomes a naturalised citizen of the United States. In June 1918, he donates $11,458 toward the U.S. World War I effort. By then, his career is a huge financial success, earning millions in his lifetime from record sales and appearances.

By 1920, Edwin Schneider has become McCormack’s accompanist and the two are “inseparable.” When Schneider retires, Gerald Moore takes over as accompanist from 1939 to 1943.

In 1927, McCormack moves into Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, County Kildare, and adopts a very opulent lifestyle by Irish standards. He also owns apartments in London and New York. He hopes that one of his racehorses, such as Golden Lullaby, would win The Derby, but this never occurs.

McCormack also purchases Runyon Canyon in Hollywood in 1930 from Carman Runyon. He sees and likes the estate while there filming Song o’ My Heart (1930), an early all-talking, all-singing picture. He uses his salary for this movie to purchase the estate and builds a mansion he calls ‘San Patrizio,’ after Saint Patrick. He and his wife live in the mansion until they return to England in 1938.

McCormack tours often, and in his absence, the mansion is often let to celebrities such as Janet Gaynor and Charles Boyer. The McCormacks make many friends in Hollywood, among them Errol Flynn, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Charles E. Toberman and the Dohenys. After his farewell tour of America in 1937, the McCormacks deed the estate back to Carman Runyon expecting to return to the estate at a later date. World War II intervenes and he does not return.

McCormack originally ends his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gives concerts, tours, broadcasts and records in this capacity until 1943 when poor health finally forces him to retire permanently.

Ill with emphysema, McCormack purchases a house near the sea, “Glena,” Booterstown, Dublin. After years of increasingly poor health, and a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, he dies at his home in Booterstown on September 16, 1945. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, St. Patrick’s section, plot reference E/120.


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Death of Francis Browne, Irish Jesuit & Photographer

Francis Patrick Mary Browne, distinguished Irish Jesuit and a prolific photographer, dies in Dublin on July 7, 1960. His best known photographs are those of the RMS Titanic and its passengers and crew taken shortly before its sinking in 1912. He is decorated as a military chaplain during World War I.

Browne is born to a wealthy family in 1880 at Buxton House, Cork, County Cork, the youngest of the eight children of James and Brigid (née Hegarty) Browne. His mother is the niece of William Hegarty, Lord Mayor of Cork, and a cousin of Sir Daniel Hegarty, the first Lord Mayor of Cork. She dies of puerperal fever eight days after his birth. After the death of his father in a swimming accident at Crosshaven on September 2, 1889, he is raised and supported by his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, who buys him his first camera shortly before the younger man embarks on a tour of Europe in 1897.

Browne spends his formative years at Bower Convent, Athlone (1888–91), Belvedere College (1891–92), Christian Brothers College, Cork (1892–1893), St. Vincent’s Castleknock College (1893–97), graduating in 1897. He goes on the aforementioned tour of Europe, where he begins taking photographs.

Upon his return to Ireland, Browne joins the Jesuits and spends two years in the novitiate at St. Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly. He attends the Royal University of Ireland, Dublin, where he is a classmate of James Joyce, who features him as Mr. Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. In 1909, he visits Rome with his uncle and brother, a bishop and priest respectively, during which they have a private audience with Pope Pius X with the Pope allowing Browne to take his photograph. He studies theology at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin from 1911 to 1916.

In April 1912 Browne receives a present from his uncle: a ticket for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton, England, to Queenstown, Ireland, via Cherbourg, France. He travels to Southampton via Liverpool and London, boarding the RMS Titanic on the afternoon of April 10, 1912. He is booked in cabin A-37 on the Promenade Deck. He takes dozens of photographs of life aboard RMS Titanic on that day and the next morning. He captures the last known images of many crew and passengers, including captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager T. W. McCawley, engineer William Parr, Major Archibald Butt, writer Jacques Futrelle and numerous third-class passengers whose names are unknown.

During his voyage on the RMS Titanic, Browne is befriended by an American millionaire couple who are seated at his table in the liner’s first-class dining saloon. They offer to pay his way to New York and back in return for him spending the voyage to New York in their company. He telegraphs his superior, requesting permission, but the reply is an unambiguous “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL.”

Browne leaves the RMS Titanic when she docks in Queenstown and returns to Dublin to continue his theological studies. When the news of the ship’s sinking reaches him, he realises that his photos would be of great interest, and he negotiates their sale to various newspapers and news cartels. They appear in publications around the world. The Eastman Kodak Company subsequently gives him free film for life and he often contributes to The Kodak Magazine. It is unknown what type of camera he used to shoot the famous photos aboard RMS Titanic.

After his ordination on July 31, 1915, Browne completes his theological studies. In 1916, he is sent to Europe to join the Irish Guards as a chaplain. He serves with the Guards until the spring of 1920, including service at the Battle of the Somme and at Locre, Wytschaete, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras in Flanders.

Browne is wounded five times during the war, once severely in a gas attack. He is awarded the Military Cross (MC) on June 4, 1917 “for distinguished service in the field”. He is awarded a bar to his MC on February 18, 1918. He is also awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.

Browne takes many photographs during his time in Europe. One, which he calls “Watch on the Rhine,” is considered a classic image of World War I. He assembles a collection of his war photographs in an album named after his most famous photograph and distributes copies to his colleagues in the Guards.

After the war, Browne returns to Dublin, where, in 1922, he is appointed superior of Gardiner Street Church in Dublin. Ill health dogs him, however, and in 1924 it is thought that he would recover more quickly in warmer climes. He is sent on an extended visit to Australia. He takes his camera along, photographing life aboard ship and in Cape Town, South Africa, where he breaks his voyage.

On his way back to Ireland, Browne visits Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Saloniki, Naples, Toulon, Gibraltar, Algeciras, and Lisbon, taking photographs of local life and events at every stop. It is estimated that he takes more than 42,000 photographs during his life.

Browne resumes office as the Superior of Saint Francis Xavier Church, Dublin, upon his return. In 1929 he is appointed to the Retreats and Mission staff of the Irish Jesuits. His work entails preaching at missions and religious retreats all over Ireland. As most of this work is necessarily performed on evenings and Sundays, he has considerable time to indulge in his hobby during the daytime. He takes photographs of many parishes and towns in Ireland, and also photographs in London and East Anglia during his ecclesiastical travels to England.

Browne dies in Dublin on July 7, 1960, and is buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. His negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death. They are found by chance in 1985 when Father Edward E. O’Donnell discovers them in a large metal trunk, once belonging to Browne, in the Irish Jesuit archives. “When the trunk was opened in 1985, people compared him to the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, but his work predated theirs by decades,” archivist David Davison later recalls.

O’Donnell brings the negatives to the attention of several publishers. The RMS Titanic photographs are published in 1997 as Father Browne’s Titanic Album with text by E. E. O’Donnell (Fr. Eddie O’Donnell). In all, at least 25 volumes of Browne’s photographs have now been published. The features editor of The Sunday Times of London calls this “the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Many of these books have become best-sellers, the latest being the Centenary Edition of Father Browne’s Titanic Album in 2012 by Messenger Publications, Dublin.

The Irish province of the Jesuits, the owner of the negatives pursuant to Browne’s will, engage photographic restoration specialists David and Edwin Davison to preserve and catalogue the fragile and unstable negatives. The Davisons make copies of every negative and are in the process of transferring every usable image to a digital format for future generations. The Davisons later acquire the rights to the photographs and still own the rights as Davison & Associates.


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Birth of Mary O’Rourke, Former Fianna Fáil Politician

Mary O’Rourke (née Lenihan), former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on May 31, 1937.

O’Rourke is educated at St. Peter’s in Athlone, Loreto Bray Convent in County Wicklow, University College Dublin and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. She works as a secondary school teacher before beginning her political career.

O’Rourke begins her political career in local politics, serving on Athlone Urban District Council between 1974 and 1987 and on Westmeath County Council between 1979 and 1987. She is elected to Seanad Éireann in 1981 as a Senator for the Cultural and Educational Panel. She stands unsuccessfully for the Dáil at the February 1982 Irish general election, but is subsequently re-elected to the Seanad. At the November 1982 Irish general election, she is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for the Longford–Westmeath constituency, and from 1992 for the new Westmeath constituency.

In 1987, O’Rourke is appointed Minister for Education by Charles Haughey. She and her brother, Brian Lenihan Snr, become the first brother and sister in Irish history to serve in the same cabinet. In the November 1991 cabinet reshuffle, she becomes Minister for Health. In February 1992, Charles Haughey resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader and she contests the subsequent leadership election along with Michael Woods and Albert Reynolds. Reynolds wins the election and she is subsequently dropped from her ministerial position, but is appointed to a junior ministry as Minister of State for Labour Affairs at the Departments of Industry and Commerce, and later Enterprise and Employment.

In 1994, Bertie Ahern becomes party leader and he appoints O’Rourke as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, serving in the position until 2002. Following Ahern’s election as Taoiseach in June 1997, she becomes Minister for Public Enterprise, holding this position until she loses her Dáil seat at the 2002 Irish general election. This follows a vote management strategy from Fianna Fáil head office which restricts her from campaigning in her traditional areas around Kilbeggan, in an attempt to win 2 of the 3 seats in Westmeath. The loss of her Dáil seat is also attributed to her association with and the championing of, the privatisation of Telecom Éireann, which proves a financial disaster for many small investors, due to the share price falling radically, post privatisation. During this term as Minister, she also becomes the subject of public criticism by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary. Following the loss of her Dáil seat, she is nominated to Seanad Éireann as a Senator by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern where she becomes Leader of the Seanad and leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad.

In January 2006, O’Rourke receives the party nomination to stand at the 2007 Irish general election. She narrowly defeats her nearest rival and Dáil election running mate, Kevin “Boxer” Moran of Athlone Town Council, causing a controversy when she thanks her election team for working “like blacks.” She is re-elected to the Dáil at the May 2007 Irish general election, with her highest ever vote.

In November 2008, during a march against the re-introduction of college fees, students from the Athlone Institute of Technology lay a funeral wreath at the door of O’Rourke’s constituency office. The card in the wreath states “Sincere sympathies on the death of free fees. We will remember this.” She describes the act as “heinous.” The wreath is placed there because she is not speaking at a rally against the fees.

In July 2010, O’Rourke concedes that she does not expect the party to be in power after the next general election. On RTÉ Radio‘s Today with Pat Kenny programme, she says the government is taking tough decisions to steer the country through the financial crisis and this will make it easy for the opposition. She says there is a general air of “crossness” within the Fianna Fáil party over their standing in the polls, but nobody is harboring leadership ambitions to challenge Brian Cowen.

In November 2010, O’Rourke says there is then more to unite her party and Fine Gael than to divide them. She points to the common approach of the two parties to Northern Ireland, Europe and the current financial crisis. In an address to the 1916–1921 Club in Dublin Castle, she says that most voters no longer defined themselves in terms of Civil War politics.

O’Rourke’s senior years lead her to often being referred to as the “Mammy of the Dáil.”

O’Rourke contests the 2011 Irish general election, but is defeated on the poll. She had been critical of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, saying that he should have resigned after his infamous “congested” radio interview. She supports the attack on Cowen by her nephew, former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan Jnr, who says he is “disappointed” by Cowen’s performance and he had to provide the leadership when the Taoiseach did not.

As well as being a well-known politician, O’Rourke makes regular appearances in the media in a non-political capacity. She has been a contestant on RTÉ‘s reality series Celebrity Bainisteoir, as well as other shows such as Sex & Sensibility. She has guest presented Tonight with Vincent Browne.

In 2012, Just Mary: My Memoir is published. It wins the 2012 Irish Book Award in the “Listeners’ Choice” category.

O’Rourke comes from a strong political family, her father Patrick Lenihan serves as a TD for Longford–Westmeath from 1965 to 1970. Her brother Brian Lenihan is a senior government Minister and Tánaiste. Another brother, Paddy Lenihan, is a County Councillor in Roscommon, but resigns from Fianna Fáil in 1983 and becomes associated with Neil Blaney‘s Independent Fianna Fáil party. Two of her nephews, Brian Lenihan Jnr and Conor Lenihan, both sons of her brother Brian, serve as Ministers. Brian Lenihan Jnr is the Minister for Finance. Conor Lenihan is a Minister of State.

O’Rourke is widowed in January 2001, following the death of her husband, Enda. She has two sons. Aengus O’Rourke, her adopted son, runs for Athlone Town Council in 2009. The other son, Feargal O’Rourke, becomes Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland in 2015 and is considered the “grand architect” of the Double Irish tax system, a major contributor to Ireland’s economic success in attracting U.S. multinationals to Ireland.


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The Battle of Curlew Pass

The Battle of Curlew Pass is fought on August 15, 1599, during the campaign of the Earl of Essex in the Nine Years’ War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell. The English are ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, near the town of Boyle, in northwestern Ireland. The English forces suffer heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces are not recorded but are probably minimal.

In April 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland with over 17,000 troops and cavalry to put down the rebellion of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, which has spread from Ulster to all Ireland. To this end, he supports an Irish enemy of O’Donnell’s, Sir Donogh O’Connor (O’Connor Sligo), encouraging him to repossess those territories of his in Sligo that O’Donnell has occupied. Sligo Town is an excellent advance base, with Ballyshannon 20 miles to the northeast commanding an important river-ford at the principal western passage into O’Donnell’s country in Ulster. English military advisers have long urged the government councils in Dublin and London to capture these strategic points. O’Connor’s brother-in-law, Tibbot ne Long Bourke, is appointed joint-commander with an English captain of a force sailing from Galway, and O’Connor is expected to receive them in Sligo. However, O’Donnell quickly besieges O’Connor at Collooney Castle with over 2,000 men in an effort to starve him out, and Essex is put on the back foot. Essex has no option but to support the besieged O’Connor, one of the few Gaelic chieftains the Crown can rely upon for support. He orders the experienced Sir Conyers Clifford, who is based in Athlone, to relieve the castle with 1,500 English infantry and 200 cavalry. It is hoped that the operation would also distract the chief rebel, O’Neill, and afford the crown an opportunity to march into his Ulster territory across its southeastern border.

O’Donnell leaves 300 men at Collooney Castle under his cousin, Niall Garbh O’Donnell, and sends another 600 to Sligo town to prevent the landing of English reinforcements under Tibbot ne Long Bourke. He then marches to Dunavaragh with 1,500 of his men, where he is joined by additional forces under local chieftains Conor MacDermott and Brian Óg na Samhthach Ó Ruairc. The Irish then carefully prepare an ambush site in the Curlew Mountains, along the English line of march. O’Donnell has trees felled and placed along the road to impede their progress. When he gets word of the English passing through Boyle, O’Donnell positions his men. Musketeers, archers and javelin men are placed in the woods alongside the road to harass the English. The main body of Irish infantry, armed with pikes and axes, are placed out of sight behind the ridge of the mountain.

In hot harvest weather, Clifford’s force marches from Athlone through Roscommon, Tulsk and Boyle. At 4:00 PM on August 15, they reach the foot of the Curlew Mountains, which have to be crossed before Sligo can be approached. The expedition is poorly supplied, and Clifford’s men are tired and hungry, and probably in no fit state to continue. But Clifford has received false intelligence that the pass is undefended, and he therefore chooses to seize the opportunity and march across, promising his troops plenty of beef in the evening. This means that his men miss out on the rest that had been planned for them in Boyle, whereas the Irish are well fed and prepared.

The English come under gunfire, arrow and javelin attack as soon as they reach the first of O’Donnell’s barricades, between Boyle and Ballinafad. The barricade is immediately abandoned by the Irish but as the English moved past and proceed up the hill they sustain further casualties. The road consists of “stones of six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them,” and is lined with woodland on one side. The further the English advance, the more intensive the rebels’ fire becomes, and some English soldiers begin to lose their nerve and slip away. Eventually, there is a firefight, lasting about 90 minutes, at the end of which the English vanguard has run out of gunpowder. The commander of the vanguard, Alexander Radcliffe, can no longer control his troops. They wheel about in a panic and collide with the main column, which breaks and flees. The commander leads a charge with his remaining pikemen but is shot dead. With the English ranks in disarray, the main body of Irish infantry, which has concealed itself on the reverse slope of the hill, closes in and fights hand to hand. Clifford tries to regain control over his men, but appears overcome by his circumstances. He manages to rally himself and is killed by a pike-thrust as he rushes the enemy. The English are routed, but the situation is prevented from becoming a complete disaster for them when the commander of the horse, Sir Griffin Markham, charges uphill and temporarily drives the rebels back.

Though the actions of the English cavalry allows many of their foot soldiers to escape, Clifford’s men are pursued as far as the town of Boyle, where they find shelter in Boyle Abbey. About 500 English are killed in the battle. Irish losses are not recorded, but are probably small, having been firing from prepared positions and then routing a disorganised and demoralised enemy.

Clifford’s head is cut off and delivered to O’Donnell, who has remained nearby but without taking part in the fight. While the head is brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders, the trunk is carried by MacDermott to the monastery of Lough Key, where he hopes to use it to ransom his own prisoners. At last, the trunk is given a decent burial in the monastery.

O’Connor Sligo surrenders the castle shortly afterwards and reluctantly joins with the rebels. After the victory, there is a noticeable increase in the rate of desertion by Irish troops from the ranks of Essex’s army, and the earl orders that the surviving troops be divided up as fit only to hold walls.

The battle is a classic Gaelic Irish ambush, similar to the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 or the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the victory is put down to the intercession of the Blessed Mary, rather than to arms. But Clifford had been overconfident, a trait in him that Essex once warned against, and it is clear that English military commanders are choosing to learn the hard way about the increased effectiveness of Irish rebel forces. Queen Elizabeth I‘s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rates this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Sir Henry Harrington in the Battle of Deputy’s Pass in County Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland, and seeks to lay the blame indirectly on Essex. It leaves O’Donnell and O’Neill free from any threat from the Connacht side, and renders a land-based attack through Armagh highly improbable, a factor that weighs with Essex as he marches northward later in the year and enters a truce with O’Neill.

In August 1602, the Curlew Pass is the scene of the last victory won by the rebels during the war, when a panicking English force is again routed and suffers significant losses. This time the rebels are led by Rory O’Donnell who commands 400 musketeers.

Today the battlefield at Curlew Pass is overlooked by an impressionistic sculpture by Maurice Harron called “The Gaelic Chieftain”, unveiled in 1999.


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Launch of Irish Language Radio Station RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, abbreviated RnaG, an Irish language radio station owned and operated by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), goes on the air for the first time on April 2, 1972, launched by President Éamon de Valera. The station is available on FM in Ireland and via satellite and on the Internet. The station’s main-headquarters are in Casla, County Galway with major studios also in Gweedore, County Donegal and Dingle, County Kerry.

After the Irish Free State is formed and the Irish Civil War is concluded, the new state sets up a single radio channel named 2RN in 1926, launched by Douglas Hyde. The channel, operating out of Dublin, largely serves the Anglosphere population and at best reaches as far as County Tipperary, a situation that does not change until more powerful transmitters are adopted in the 1930s at Athlone.

In 1943, de Valera, at the time serving as Taoiseach and whose wife Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin is a keen Conradh na Gaeilge activist, promotes the idea of a Gaeltacht station, but there is no breakthrough. By this time, 2RN has become Radio Éireann and still only has one channel, with limited broadcasting hours, often in competition for listeners with BBC Radio and Radio Luxembourg.

In the 1950s, a general liberalisation and commercialisation, indeed Americanisation begins to occur in Ireland, as a push is made to move Ireland from a rural-agrarian society with a protectionist cultural policy towards a market economy basis, with supply and demand the primarily basis of public communications. In 1960, RTÉ is established and direct control of communications moves from a government ministry position to a non-governmental RTÉ Director-General position, first filled by Edward Roth

In the late 1960s, a civil rights movement in the Gaeltacht emerges, seeking development and services for Irish speakers, including a radio service. Out of the Gluaiseacht Chearta Siabhialta na Gaeltachta‘s advocacy comes the pirate radio station Saor Raidió Chonamara in 1970. This sets the subsequent discourse for Irish language and Gaeltacht issues as a civil rights and minority rights imperative.

Gerry Collins, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, announces in Dáil Éireann in February 1971 that a new radio station for the Gaeltacht will be created. Raidió na Gaeltachta begins broadcasting at 3:00 PM on April 2, 1972 as part of an Easter Sunday programming. During the very first broadcast, the main station at Casla, County Galway is not yet finished and the studios in County Kerry and County Donegal are still under construction, so the broadcast originates from Galway. The first Ceannaire (Controller) Pádraic Ó Raghallaigh opens the show, which is followed by a recording from President Éamon de Valera. A recording of Seán Ó Riada‘s Irish language Mass, Ceol an Aifrinn, from the Seipéal Mhic Dara at Carraroe is also played.

At foundation, the station begins with a staff of seven, including six former teachers and a businessman, and broadcasts for only two hours a day and is only available in or near the three largest Gaeltacht districts. The local studio at Derrybeg in Gweedore, County Donegal aids the native Irish music scene there. In the 1970s, Raidió na Gaeltachta gives early coverage to Clannad and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, later the singer for Altan. These groups gain popularity not only in Ireland, but on the international stage, selling millions of records during the 1980s especially. The station is dedicated to bringing the listener general news, both national and international, as well as Gaelic sports coverage and more localised affairs of significance to the community in the Gaeltacht.

For many years RnaG is the only Irish language broadcaster in the country. In recent years it has been joined by a television service, Telefís na Gaeilge (TG4), and by regional community radio stations Raidió na Life in Dublin, Raidió Fáilte in Belfast, and Raidió Rí-Rá.


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Birth of Samuel Haliday, Irish Presbyterian Minister

burning-bushSamuel Haliday, Irish Presbyterian non-subscribing minister to the “first congregation” of Belfast, is born on July 16, 1685 in Omagh, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. His refusal to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith leads to a split between Subscribing and Non-Subscribing adherents.

Haliday is the son of the Rev. Samuel Haliday (1637–1724), who is ordained presbyterian minister of Convoy, County Donegal, in 1664. He then moves to Omagh in 1677, leaving for Scotland in 1689, where he is successively minister of Dunscore, Drysdale, and New North Church, Edinburgh. He returns to Ireland in 1692, becoming minister of Ardstraw, where he continues until his death.

Haliday enters Glasgow College, enrolled among the students of the first class under John Loudon, professor of logic and rhetoric. He graduates M.A., and goes to Leiden University to study theology in November 1705.

In 1706 Haliday is licensed at Rotterdam and in 1708 receives ordination at Geneva, choosing to be ordained there because of its tolerance. He becomes chaplain to the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot, serving under John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in Flanders. He is received by the Synod of Ulster in 1712 as an ordained minister without charge, and declared capable of being settled in any of its congregations. For some time, however, he lives in London, where he associates with the Whig faction, in and out of the government, and uses his influence to promote the interests of his fellow-churchmen. He opposes the extension of the Schism Act 1714 to Ireland. In 1718 he takes a leading part in obtaining an increase in the regium donum and the synod of Ulster thanks him. He introduces two historians, Laurence Echard and Edmund Calamy, in a London social meeting with Sir Richard Ellys, 3rd Baronet.

In 1719 Haliday is present at the Salters’ Hall debates, and in the same year receives a call from the first congregation of Belfast, vacant by the death of the Rev. John McBride. He is at this time chaplain to Colonel Anstruther’s regiment of foot. It being rumoured that he holds Arian views, the synod in June 1720 considers the matter, and clears him. His accuser, the Rev. Samuel Dunlop of Athlone, is rebuked.

On July 28, 1720, the day appointed for his installation in Belfast, Haliday refuses to subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith, making instead a declaration to the presbytery. The presbytery proceeds with the installation, in violation of the law of the church, and in the face of a protest and appeal from four members. The case comes before the synod in 1721, but though Haliday still refuses to sign the Confession, the matter is allowed to drop. A resolution is, however, carried after long debate that all members of synod who are willing to subscribe the confession might do so, with which the majority comply. Hence arises the terms “subscribers” and “non-subscribers.” He continues to be identified with the latter until his death. A number of members of his congregation are so dissatisfied with the issue of the case that they refuse to remain under his ministry. After much opposition they are erected by the synod into a new charge.

The subscription controversy rages for years. Haliday continues to take a major part in it, both in the synod and through the press. To end the conflict, the synod in 1725 adopts the expedient of placing all the non-subscribing ministers in one presbytery, that of Antrim, which in the following year is excluded from the body.

Haliday is a lifelong friend to the philosopher Francis Hutcheson. In 1736 Thomas Drennan is installed as his colleague in Belfast. Haliday dies at the age of 54 on March 5, 1739.

(Pictured: The burning bush is a common symbol used by Presbyterian churches; here as used by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The Latin inscription underneath translates as “burning but flourishing”. In Presbyterianism, alternative versions of the motto are also used such as “burning, yet not consumed”.)


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The 31st International Eucharistic Congress Begins in Dublin

eucharistic-congress-closing-ceremony-1932The 31st International Eucharistic Congress begins in Dublin on June 22, 1932 and runs through June 26. The congress is one of the largest eucharistic congresses of the 20th century and the largest public event to happen in the new Irish Free State. It reinforces the Free State’s image of being a devout Catholic nation. The high point is when over a million people gather for Mass in Phoenix Park.

Ireland is then home to 3,171,697 Catholics. It is selected to host the congress as 1932 is the 1500th anniversary of Saint Patrick‘s arrival. The chosen theme is “The Propagation of the Sainted Eucharist by Irish Missionaries.”

The city of Dublin is decorated with banners, bunting, garlands, and replica round towers. Seven ocean liners moor in the port basins and along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Five others anchor around Scotsmans Bay. The liners act as floating hotels and can accommodate from 130 to 1,500 people on each. The Blue Hussars, a ceremonial cavalry unit of the Irish Army formed to escort the President of Ireland on state occasions, first appears in public as an honor guard for the visiting Papal Legate representing Pope Pius XI.

John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College, hosts a large garden party on the grounds of the college to welcome the papal legate, where the hundreds of bishops assembled for the Congress have the opportunity to mingle with a huge gathering of distinguished guests and others who have paid a modest subscription fee.

The final public mass of the congress is held at 1:00 PM on Sunday, June 26 in Phoenix Park at an altar designed by the eminent Irish architect John J. Robinson of Robinson & Keefe Architects, and is celebrated by Michael Joseph Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore. A radio station, known as Radio Athlone, is set up in Athlone to coincide with the Congress. In 1938 it becomes Radio Éireann. The ceremonies include a live radio broadcast by Pope Pius XI from the Vatican. John McCormack, the world famous Irish tenor, sings César Franck‘s Panis Angelicus at the mass.

Approximately 25% of the population of Ireland attend the mass and afterwards four processions leave the Park to O’Connell Street where approximately 500,000 people gather on O’Connell Bridge for the concluding Benediction given by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.

The English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton is also present, and observes, “I confess I was myself enough of an outsider to feel flash through my mind, as the illimitable multitude began to melt away towards the gates and roads and bridges, the instantaneous thought ‘This is Democracy; and everyone is saying there is no such thing.'”

On the other hand, such an overwhelming display of Catholicity only confirms to Protestants in the North the necessity of the border.

(Pictured: the closing ceremony of the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Dublin in June 1932)


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The Fall of Athlone

siege-of-athloneThe fall of Athlone occurs on June 30, 1691 during the Williamite War in Ireland. Despite the bravery of legendary Sergeant Custume and others, severely outnumbered, the Connacht side of the town falls. The remainder of the Irish garrison retreats to Limerick.

The first assault on Athlone comes in 1690 after the defeat of the Irish at the Battle of the Boyne. General Douglas, leading a substantial force of possibly ten thousand consisting mostly of Ulster regiments, is the Williamite commander. When he arrives at Athlone he is confident that he will quickly conquer the town for King William III. However, he had not reckoned on the spirited defence of Athlone by Colonel Richard Grace. Grace, who is at that time over seventy years of age and a veteran of the Irish Confederate Wars and Governor of Athlone, refuses to surrender. After a week the Williamite army retreats.

In 1691, determined to capture Athlone, the Williamites return with their full army of almost 25,000 men. The army is under the command of a Dutch general, Goderd de Ginkell. The Jacobite forces are under the command of a French general, the Marquis de St. Ruth. The Williamites breach the town wall and capture the Leinster town. The Jacobites, in a desperate attempt to keep the enemy at bay, break down several arches of the bridge and the Williamites quickly attempt to repair them. Sergeant Custume leads his men onto the bridge to dislodge the Williamite repair work. They succeed in doing so before meeting their death at the hands of enemy fire.

Ironically the capture of Athlone comes when the Williamites discover the ford that gave Athlone its name and in a surprise attack dislodge the Jacobites and take the castle by storm resulting in wholesale carnage and slaughter. For his services to King William III, but certainly not to Athlone, Ginkle is given the title Earl of Athlone. The bravery of Sergeant Custume has not been forgotten as the military barracks in Athlone is called Custume Barracks in his honour, the only barracks in Ireland named after a non-commissioned officer. A street adjoining the town bridge is named Custume Place.


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Irish Ferries Protest

irish-ferries-protestNearly 150,000 people take to the streets on December 9, 2005, as the Irish Ferries protest mushrooms into the largest public demonstration the country has seen for two decades.

The national day of protest is called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is demanding Government action to combat exploitation of migrant workers and the displacement of jobs. There are rallies in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Athlone and Rosslare.

An Garda Síochána estimate that 40,000 people take part in the march in Dublin, although organisers claim the figure is far higher. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party and John Gormley of the Green Party participate in the march in the capital. Staff on board the MS Isle of Inismore in Pembroke and the four engineers holed up in the ships control room say they are overwhelmed by the level of support shown by marchers in the rallies.

Bus and rail services are disrupted during the protest but return to normal for evening rush hour.

The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) strongly criticises the National Day of Protest. In a statement, ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding says the protest is undermining the industrial relations process in this country and has very little to do with the Irish Ferries dispute and is in fact an attempt by the unions to influence negotiations in advance of any new national pay agreement.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Services Industrial Professional Technical Union (SIPTU) President Jack O’Connor says the rallies give workers the chance to take a stand.

Director General of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) Turlough O’Sullivan says there is nothing to be gained from disrupting business and the general public. He adds that whatever one’s views on the Irish Ferries dispute, nothing can justify calling a national work stoppage when discussions are already underway in a bid to resolve the row.


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Birth of Painter Richard Rothwell

Richard Rothwell, nineteenth-century Irish portrait and genre painter, is born on November 20, 1800 in Athlone, County Westmeath.

Rothwell is born to James and Elizabeth and is the oldest of their seven children. He trains to become a painter at the Dublin Society‘s school from 1814 until 1820 and wins a silver medal for his work. At the age of 24, he is made a member of the newly established Royal Hibernian Academy and exhibits portraits there from 1826 to 1829. He subsequently moves to London and works as a studio assistant to Thomas Lawrence. When Lawrence dies in 1830, Rothwell completes many of his unfinished works and is poised to become the next foremost portrait painter in Britain and Ireland.

According to Leoneé Ormond’s biographical article in the Grove Dictionary of Art, Rothwell “was at the height of his powers from 1829 to 1831” and he “was much influenced by Lawrence, but he lacked the incisiveness and flair of his master.” According to Fintan Cullen‘s biographical entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rothwell’s “portraits are highly accomplished” and “fine examples” including those of novelist Gerald Griffin and Mary Shelley.

From 1831 to 1834, Rothwell tours Italy to study Italian art so that he can paint history paintings. In the 1830s, he starts painting genre pictures, such as The Poor Mendicants (1837). He usually paints Italian-inspired pieces, such as his semi-nude study Calisto, a work he considers to be his masterpiece. He is furious when the painting is poorly hung at the 1862 International Exhibition in London and publishes a pamphlet on the topic.

When Rothwell returns to London, his popularity has evaporated. He lives and exhibits works in Ireland, the United States, London, and Italy, but he never again achieves the same level of popularity he had reached in the late 1820s.

In 1842 Rothwell marries Rosa Marshall. The couple has several children.  Rothwell contracts a fever while working in Rome and dies on September 13, 1868. Joseph Severn, who painted a portrait of the Romantic poet John Keats, arranges for Rothwell’s funeral and tomb in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.