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


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Michelle Smith de Bruin Stripped of Swimming Records

Michelle Smith de Bruin, Irish swimmer who achieves notable success in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, becoming Ireland’s most successful Olympian to date, is stripped of her Irish swimming records on July 16, 1999 for tampering with a urine sample.

Smith is born in Rathcoole, County Dublin on December 16, 1969. Her father teaches her and her two sisters how to swim. She first appears on the world scene as an 18-year-old at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She also appears in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, despite suffering an injury in the months leading up to the Games.

Smith wins three gold medals and a bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, making her Ireland’s most decorated Olympian. There is controversy at the games due to her qualifying for the 400m freestyle event at the expense of the then world-record holder Janet Evans, an American swimmer who finishes ninth in the preliminary swims with only the top eight advancing. Smith does not submit her qualifying time for the 400m freestyle event before the July 5 deadline but does so two days later with the Irish Olympic officials insisting they had been given permission to submit the qualifying time after the deadline.

Smith applies for the event after she arrives in Atlanta. After she qualifies at the expense of Evans, the US Swimming Federation, supported by the German and Netherlands swimming teams, challenge a decision to allow Smith to compete but are unsuccessful. At a later conference, Evans highlights that accusations of Smith doping had been heard by her around poolside. Smith later receives an apology from Evans as her comments lead to Smith being treated poorly by U.S. media.

Two years after the 1996 Summer Olympics, FINA bans Smith for four years for tampering with her urine sample using alcohol. She appeals against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Her case is heard by a panel of three experienced sports lawyers, including Michael Beloff QC. Unusually for a CAS hearing, Smith’s case is heard in public, at her own lawyer’s request. FINA submits evidence from Jordi Segura, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accredited laboratory in Barcelona, which says she took androstenedione, a metabolic precursor of testosterone, in the previous 10 to 12 hours before being tested. The CAS upholds the ban.

Smith is 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ends her competitive swimming career. She is not stripped of her Olympic medals, as she had never tested positive for any banned substances.

Smith’s experiences at the CAS have an effect beyond her swimming career. It is there that she develops an interest in the law. After officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returns to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she is conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King’s Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King’s Inns she wins the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure, is published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall.

Smith has always denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In 1996, she releases her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan. She lives in Kells, County Kilkenny with her husband, Erik de Bruin, and their two children.


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Birth of Olympic Medalist Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith, married name Michelle Smith de Bruin, lawyer and retired Irish swimmer who wins four medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, is born in Rathcoole, County Dublin on December 16, 1969. As a result of the medals captured in Atlanta, she becomes the most successful Olympian in Ireland and the country’s first woman to capture a gold medal.

Smith begins swimming competitively at age thirteen. Though she develops into one of Ireland’s premier junior swimmers, she realizes that without more advanced facilities and training techniques, she will never be able to compete at the international level. She goes to the United States to attend school and swim at the University of Houston, where she graduates with a degree in communications. Her times steadily improve and she makes the Irish Olympic teams for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. At both of those Games, however, she is eliminated in the preliminary rounds.

In 1994 Smith moves to the Netherlands with her coach and future husband, Erik de Bruin, to prepare for the 1996 Games. The next year she emerges as an elite athlete, winning the 200-metre butterfly and the 200-metre individual medley at the 1995 European Aquatics Championships. She continues to improve in 1996, taking 19 seconds off her best time in the 400-metre freestyle. In response to questions about her sudden turnaround, she credits more sophisticated training techniques and a single-minded focus on swimming. She also points out that she is probably the most tested athlete in Irish history and that she had never tested positive for banned substances.

Prior to the Atlanta Games, Ireland had won only five Olympic gold medals, and no medal — gold, silver, or bronze — had been won by Irish women. In one week, however, Smith rewrites the Irish record books. The 26-year-old swimmer wins the gold in three events — the 200-metre individual medley, the 400-metre individual medley, and the 400-metre freestyle — and captures the bronze medal in the 200-metre butterfly. Her triumph, however, is somewhat tarnished by unsubstantiated rumours that she had used performance-enhancing drugs. Some observers question her dramatic improvements in time and point to her marriage to de Bruin, a Dutch discus thrower who had been suspended from international competition for steroid use. Smith passes all the pre- and post-Olympic drug tests, however.

Smith’s success continues at the 1997 European Aquatic Championships, where she wins gold medals in the 200-metre butterfly and the 200-metre individual medley. In 1998, however, she receives a four-year ban for tampering with a urine sample during a drug test. She maintains her innocence, but her appeal of the ban before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) fails. She is 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ends her competitive swimming career. She is not stripped of her Olympic medals, as she has never tested positive for any banned substances.

Smith’s experiences at the CAS has an effect beyond her swimming career. It is there that she develops an interest in the law. After officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returns to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she is conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King’s Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King’s Inns she wins the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure is published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall.

In 1996, Smith releases her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan. She lives in Kells, County Kilkenny with her husband and their two children.


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The Battle of Utoy Creek

*The 10th Tennessee Infantry (Irish) fights at the Battle of Utoy Creek on August 6, 1864 during the American Civil War. Known as the “Bloody Tinth,” it is one of only two Irish Catholic regiments in the Confederate States Army, although their elected officers are mostly Ulster Scots Protestants. They are deployed as sharpshooters through the tough campaigns at Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta.

The Battle of Utoy Creek is fought August 4–7, 1864, during the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‘s Union armies have partially encircled the city of Atlanta, Georgia, which is being held by Confederate forces under the command of General John Bell Hood. Sherman has at this point adopted a strategy of attacking the railroad lines into Atlanta, hoping to cut off his enemies’ supplies. This is the third direct attack on Confederate positions during the campaign and the effect of success would have ended the siege and won Atlanta on August 6, 1864.

After failing to envelop Hood’s left flank at the Battle of Ezra Church, Sherman still wants to extend his right flank to hit the railroad between East Point and Atlanta. He transfers Maj. Gen. John McAllister Schofield‘s XXIII Corps of the U.S. Army of the Ohio from his left to his right flank and sends him to the north bank of Utoy Creek.

Although Schofield’s troops are at Utoy Creek on August 2, they, along with the XIV Corps, Army of the Cumberland, do not cross until August 4. An initial attack by the Regular Brigade against James Patton Anderson‘s Division CSA of Stephen Dill Lee‘s Corps is unsuccessful. In addition the Confederates dismount a brigade of cavalry, Armstrong’s, in the front of the federals in a deception plan, a feinted attack that is successful in delaying the combined force of the XXIII and XIV Corps USA.

Schofield makes an additional movement to exploit this situation on the morning of August 5. Although initially successful, Schofield has to regroup his forces, which takes the rest of the day. The delay allows the Confederates to strengthen their defenses with an abatis, which slows the Union attack when it restarts on the morning of August 6. The Federals are repulsed with heavy losses by William Brimage Bate‘s division and fail in an attempt to break the main defenses to gain the railroad.

On August 7, the Union troops move toward the Confederate main line skirmishing and extending to their right and entrench. Several attacks are made at Sandtown Road (Campbellton at Adams Park) on August 10 and East Point on August 18. Here US Forces remain, as far south as the Atlanta Christian College, until late August 1864 when the failure of Schofield’s offensive operations convince Sherman to move on the Confederate lines of communication and supply.


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Birth of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

patrick-ronayne-cleburnePatrick Ronayne Cleburne, called the “Stonewall of the West” and one of the finest generals produced by either side during the American Civil War is born on March 17, 1828 at Bride Park Cottage in Ovens, County Cork, just outside Cork City.

Born on St. Patrick’s Day, this native Irishman is nevertheless extremely loyal to his adopted country, saying, “if this [Confederacy] that is so dear to my heart is doomed to fail, I pray heaven may let me fall with it, while my face is toward the enemy and my arm battling for that which I know to be right.” Sadly, Cleburne ultimately receives his wish.

Cleburne begins his military career in an unlikely manner. When he fails the entrance exam at Trinity College, Dublin, he cannot face his family. He enlists in the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army. In 1849 he purchases his discharge and leaves for the United States, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas in June 1850 and earning his citizenship in 1855. He loves his new country, taking part in many community projects, and even being one of the few volunteers to care for the sick during a yellow fever outbreak.

In January 1861 Cleburne joins the local militia company, the Yell Rifles.  He leads the company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock in January 1861. When Arkansas left the Union, the Yell Rifles became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry Regiment. By fall of 1861 he has risen to command the 2nd Brigade, Hardee’s Division, in the Army of Central Kentucky. His first major battle is at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. At the Battle of Richmond (Kentucky) in August 1862, he is wounded in the mouth and loses several of his teeth. Still, he earns the thanks of the Confederate States Congress for his actions there. During the October 1862 Battle of Perryville he is wounded again – twice, yet stays in command during the battle. In December 1862 he is promoted to Major General.

At the December 1862 Battle of Stones River, Cleburne and his division earn the praise of General Braxton Bragg for their incredible skill and valor. Cleburne’s actions and character play a large role in his men’s determination during battle.

In 1863 Cleburne faces off against Union General George Henry Thomas at the Battle of Chickamauga. His and General John C. Breckinridge’s assaults force General Thomas to call repeatedly for reinforcements. In November 1863 the Confederate army is forced to retreat after the Chattanooga Campaign. However, Cleburne has defeated every assault against his men eventually charging his attackers. After the battle, he and his men are charged with covering the retreat.

On January 2, 1864, Cleburne makes his most controversial decision ever. He gathers the corps and division commanders in the Army of Tennessee to present his proposal. The Confederacy is unable to fill its ranks due to a lack of manpower. He states that slavery is their “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.” His proposed solution is for the Confederacy to arm slaves to fight in the army. In time, these soldiers would receive their freedom. The proposal is not well received at all. In fact, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, directs that the proposal be suppressed.

In the spring of 1864 the Army of Tennessee moves towards Atlanta, Georgia. Cleburne and his men fight at Dalton, Tunnel Hill, Resaca, Pickett’s Mill, Ringgold and Kennesaw. The Atlanta Campaign begins in the summer and lasts until September, when General John Bell Hood evacuates Atlanta. Hood had taken command from General Joseph E. Johnston, which Cleburne felt to be a disaster for the Confederacy.

General Hood hopes to stop Union General John Schofield and his men before they can reach Nashville to reinforce General Thomas. Due to poor communications and nightfall, Schofield slips past the Army of Tennessee into Franklin.

The November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin is a tragic loss for the Confederacy. Hood throws his men into well-fortified Union troops. The results are disastrous. About 6,000 men are killed or wounded including six generals who are killed or mortally wounded. Cleburne is one of these six, killed while attacking Union breastworks. He is last seen advancing on foot toward the Union line with his sword raised, after his horse had been shot out from under him. Accounts later say that he is found just inside the Federal line and his body is carried back to an aid station along the Columbia Turnpike. Confederate war records indicate he died of a shot to the abdomen, or possibly a bullet that went through his heart. When Confederates find his body, he has been picked clean of any valuable items, including his sword, boots and pocket watch.

Cleburne’s remains are first laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Tennessee. At the urging of Army Chaplain Biship Quintard, Judge Mangum, staff officer to Cleburne and his law partner in Helena, his remains are moved to St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, where they remain for six years. In 1870, he is disinterred and returned to his adopted hometown of Helena, Arkansas, with much fanfare, and buried in the Helena Confederate Cemetery located in the southwest corner of the Maple Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Several geographic features are named after Patrick Cleburne, including Cleburne County in Alabama and Arkansas, and the city of Cleburne, Texas. The Patrick R. Cleburne Confederate Cemetery is a memorial cemetery in Jonesboro, Georgia that is named in honor of General Patrick Cleburne.