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


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Birth of Ray MacSharry, Fianna Fáil Politician

raymond-mcsharryRaymond MacSharry, Fianna Fáil politician who serves in a range of cabinet positions, most notably as Tánaiste, Minister for Finance, and European Commissioner, is born on April 29, 1938 in Sligo, County Sligo.

MacSharry is educated at the local national school before later briefly attending Summerhill College. After leaving school he works as a livestock dealer throughout Sligo and Mayo before becoming involved in the Meat Exporters Factory in his native town. MacSharry also owns his own haulage firm.

Although MacSharry comes from a non-political family, he himself becomes an active member of Fianna Fáil in Sligo. In 1967 he makes his first move into politics when he secures election to both Sligo Borough Council and Sligo County Council. It was from this local base that he launches his national election campaign.

MacSharry is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for the Sligo–Leitrim constituency at the 1969 general election. He is re-elected to the Dáil at the 1973 general election, however, Fianna Fáil are out of power as a Fine GaelLabour Party government comes to power. In Jack Lynch‘s subsequent front bench reshuffle, MacSharry is appointed opposition spokesperson on the Office of Public Works.

Following the 1977 general election, Fianna Fáil returns to government with a massive twenty-seat Dáil majority. With the introduction of the new Minister of State positions in 1978, MacSharry finally secures a junior ministerial post, as Minister of State at the Department of the Public Service.

Charles Haughey succeeds in becoming party leader after Jack Lynch’s resignation in 1979, albeit by a narrow margin of just six votes, and is later elected Taoiseach by the Dáil. MacSharry’s loyalty is subsequently rewarded when he is appointed Minister for Agriculture in the new government.

Fianna Fáil falls out of power in 1981 but returns to power following the February 1982 general election. MacSharry is promoted to the positions of Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, however, the government falls after just nine months in office and a new coalition government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party take office.

In 1983 MacSharry resigns from the Fianna Fáil front bench due to a telephone tapping controversy, when it is revealed that as Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, he had borrowed police tape recorders to secretly record conversations with a cabinet colleague. He spends a number of years in the political wilderness following the phone-tapping scandal. He is elected to the European Parliament as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Connacht–Ulster in 1984.

Following the 1987 general election MacSharry is returned to the Dáil once again. He resigns his European Parliament seat when he is appointed Minister for Finance in Haughey’s new government. In 1988 his loyalty to Haughey is rewarded when he is appointed European Commissioner. As a result of this he resigns his Dáil seat and ends his domestic political career.

Following the completion of his term as Commissioner, MacSharry retires from politics to pursue business interests. He is currently a director on the boards of a variety of companies including Bank of Ireland and Ryanair Holdings. In 1999 he is appointed chairman of Eircom plc. He is also a member of the Comite d’Honneur of the Institute of International and European Affairs.

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Laying of the Foundation Stone of Parliament House

parliament-houseThe foundation stone of Parliament House in College Green is laid on February 3, 1729 by Thomas Wyndham, 1st Baron Wyndham, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Parliament House is initially home to the Parliament of Ireland and later houses the Bank of Ireland. It is the world’s first purpose-built bicameral parliament house. The current parliament building is Leinster House.

The building is home to the two Houses of Parliament, serving as the seat of both chambers, the House of Lords and House of Commons, of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland for most of the 18th century until that parliament is abolished by the Acts of Union 1800, when Ireland becomes part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In the 17th century, parliament settles at Chichester House, a town house in Hoggen Green (later College Green) formerly owned by Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, which had been built on the site of a nunnery disbanded by King Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Carew’s house, named Chichester House after its later owner Sir Arthur Chichester, is a building of sufficient importance to have become the temporary home of the Kingdom of Ireland’s law courts during the Michaelmas law term in 1605. Most famously, the legal documentation facilitating the Plantation of Ulster is signed there on November 16, 1612.

Chichester House is in a dilapidated state, allegedly haunted and unfit for official use. In 1727 parliament votes to spend £6,000 on a new building on the site. It is to be the world’s first purpose-built two-chamber parliament building.

The then ancient Palace of Westminster, the seat of the English before 1707 and, later, British Parliament, is a converted building. The House of Commons‘s odd seating arrangements are due to the chamber’s previous existence as a chapel. Hence MPs face each other from former pews.

The design of the new building, one of two purpose-built Irish parliamentary buildings (along with Parliament Buildings, Stormont), is entrusted to an architect, Edward Lovett Pearce, who is a member of parliament and a protégé of the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly of Castletown House. During construction, Parliament moves into the Blue Coat Hospital on Dublin‘s Northside.

The original, domed House of Commons chamber is destroyed by fire in the 1790s, and a less elaborate new chamber, without a dome, is rebuilt in the same location and opened in 1796, four years before the Parliament’s ultimate abolition.

Pearce’s designs come to be studied and copied both at home and abroad. The Viceregal Apartments in Dublin Castle imitate his top-lit corridors. The British Museum in Bloomsbury in London copies his colonnaded main entrance. His impact reaches Washington, D.C., where his building, and in particular his octagonal House of Commons chamber, is studied as plans are made for the United States Capitol building. While the shape of the chamber is not replicated, some of its decorative motifs are, with the ceiling structure in the Old Senate Chamber and old House of Representatives chamber (now the National Statuary Hall) bearing a striking resemblance to Pearce’s ceiling in the House of Commons.

(Pictured: Architectural drawing of the front of Parliament House by Peter Mazell based on the drawing by Rowland Omer, 1767)


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Birth of William Lewery Blackley, Divine & Social Reformer

william-lewery-blackley

William Lewery Blackley, divine and social reformer, is born at Dundalk, County Louth on December 30, 1830.

Blackley is the second son of Travers Robert Blackley of Ashtown Lodge, County Dublin and Eliza, daughter of Colonel Lewery, who is taken prisoner by the French at Verdun. His maternal grandfather is Travers Hartley, MP for Dublin (1776-1790) and governor of the Bank of Ireland.

In boyhood Blackley is sent with his brother John to a school at Brussels kept by Dr. Carl Martin Friedlander, a Polish political refugee, whose daughter, Amelia Jeanne Josephine, he subsequently marries on July 24, 1855. There he acquires proficiency in French, German, and other foreign languages. In 1847 he returns to Ireland, entered Trinity College, Dublin, graduating B.A. in 1850, M.A. in 1854, and takes holy orders. In 1854 he becomes curate of St. Peter’s, Southwark, but an attack of cholera compels his retirement from London. From 1855 to 1867 he has charge of two churches at Frensham, near Farnham, Surrey. He is rector of North Waltham, Hampshire (1867-1883), and King’s Somborne (1883-1889). In 1883 he is made honorary canon of Winchester.

Blackley, who is an energetic parish priest and is keenly interested in social questions, carefully elaborates a scheme for the cure of pauperism by a statutory enforcement of thrift which has far-reaching results at home and abroad. In November 1878 he contributes to the Nineteenth Century an essay entitled National Insurance a Cheap, Practical, and Popular Way of Preventing Pauperism, and thenceforth strenuously advocates a scheme of compulsory insurance, which the National Providence League, with the Earl of Shaftesbury as president, is formed in 1880 to carry into effect. At the same time he recommends temperance as a means of social regeneration. His views reach a wide public through his writings, which include How to teach Domestic Economy (1879), Collected Essays on the Prevention of Pauperism (1880), Social Economy Reading Book, adapted to the New Code (1881), Thrift and Independence; a Word for Working-men (1884).

Blackley’s scheme provides that all persons between eighteen and twenty should subscribe to a national fund, and should receive in return a week in time of sickness, and a week after the age of seventy. The plan is urged on the House of Lords by the Earl of Carnarvon in 1880, and is the subject of inquiry by a select committee of the House of Commons from 1885 to 1887. The majority of the boards of guardians in England and Wales support the proposals, but the commons’ committee, while acknowledging Blackley’s ingenuity and knowledge, reports adversely on administrative and actuarial grounds. At the same time the friendly societies, which Blackley has censured in his Thrift and Independence, regards the principle of compulsion as a menace to their own growth, and their historian and champion, the Rev. John Frome Wilkinson, sharply criticises Blackley’s plan in The Blackley National Providence Insurance Scheme; a Protest and Appeal (1887). Blackley’s plan, although rejected for the time, stimulates kindred movements in the colonies and in foreign countries, and leads directly to the adoption of old age pensions in England by legislation in 1908, while the national insurance scheme which receives parliamentary sanction in 1911 bears some trace of Blackley’s persistent agitation.

In 1887 Blackley, who is director of the Clergy Mutual Insurance Company, makes proposals to the church congress which lead to the formation of the “Clergy Pension Scheme” and of a society for ecclesiastical fire insurance. In the autumn of 1889 Blackley, whose active propagandism brings him constantly to London, becomes vicar of St. James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road. There he enlarges the schools and builds a parish hall and a vicarage.

William Lewery Blackley dies after a brief illness at 79 St. George’s Square, on July 25, 1902. Brasses are put up in Blackley’s memory in the churches of St. James the Less, North Waltham, and Frensham.


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Bank of Ireland Suspends Gold Payments

godley-bank-note-1834The Bank of Ireland suspends gold payments on February 26, 1797. In the late 18th century, cash is king, whether it be gold or silver. If one has no gold or silver, one has no goods, unless one is a member of the 10,000 or so landed aristocratic families who are allowed to run up debts.

At the end of the 18th century Britain is at war with France. The British government requires gold above all to conduct its war with Napoleon. There is not enough to go around. There is not enough gold in the vaults of the Bank of England to adequately fund the war, much less for sending any of it to Ireland. Therefore, in 1797 the Bank of Ireland is obliged to stop issuing gold that it does not have and rather rely on well established banknotes to keep money in circulation. A few weeks later the stance taken by the Bank is approved of by Irish legislators in the Irish Parliament.

The withdrawal of gold and the increased issuing of notes leads to the establishment of a number of private banks in Ireland who are allowed to issue their own notes. In 1799 there are eleven private banks. By 1803, this number has increased to forty-one. Many of these banks subsequently fail and destroy the lives of their customers. The partners who run these financial institutions are identified on the banknotes they issue. Therefore their clients can see the names, but not the addresses, of the men who have financially destroyed them when they fall into liquidation.


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Benjamin Franklin Begins Visit to Ireland

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence, commences a visit to Ireland on September 5, 1771 where he later reports he has “a good deal of Conversation with the Patriots; they are all on the American side of the Question.”

At the time Franklin is based in London attempting to negotiate on behalf of the American Colonies. Franklin details his views of Dublin and Ireland in a letter to Thomas Cushing, a lawyer and statesman from Boston, Massachusetts. Franklin has a keen interest in Irish affairs, writing in a letter two years prior to visiting the country that “all Ireland is strongly in favour of the American cause. They have reason to sympathise with us.”

As Franklin tours Ireland in 1771 and is astounded and moved by the level of poverty he sees there. Ireland is under the trade regulations and laws of England, which affect the Irish economy, and Franklin fears that America will suffer the same plight if Britain’s exploitation of the colonies continues. During his visit, Franklin also attends two sessions of Irish Parliament as an observer.

Franklin is struck by the contrast between the grandeur of Dublin city itself and the intense poverty of those beyond its core.

Franklin writes to a friend, “The people in that unhappy country, are in a most wretched situation. Ireland is itself a poor country, and Dublin a magnificent city; but the appearances of general extreme poverty among the lower people are amazing. They live in wretched hovels of mud and straw, are clothed in rags, and subsist chiefly on potatoes. Our New England farmers, of the poorest sort, in regard to the enjoyment of all the comforts of life, are princes when compared to them. Perhaps three-fourths of the Inhabitants are in this situation.”

In 1977, the United States Ambassador to Ireland Walter J.P. Curley presents a bust of Benjamin Franklin to the Bank of Ireland to commemorate the visit. Speaking at the unveiling of the bust, the Ambassador notes that  Franklin’s friendship for Ireland was no fleeting whim. He had said “You have ever been friendly to the rights of mankind and we acknowledge with pleasure and gratitude that your nation has produced patriots who have nobly distinguished themselves in the cause of humanity and America.”


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King James I Grants License for Old Bushmills Distillery

King James I grants a license to Sir Thomas Phillips, landowner and Governor of County Antrim, for the Old Bushmills distillery on April 20, 1608. The distillery is thought to date from at least 1276 making it the oldest distillery in the world.

The Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself is not established until 1784 by Hugh Anderson. Bushmills suffers many lean years with numerous periods of closure with no record of the distillery being in operation in the official records both in 1802 and in 1822. In 1860 a Belfast spirit merchant named Jame McColgan and Patrick Corrigan purchase the distillery and in 1880 they form a limited company. In 1885, the original Bushmills buildings are destroyed by fire but the distillery is quickly rebuilt. In 1890, the steamship SS Bushmills, owned and operated by the distillery, makes its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America. It calls at Philadelphia and New York City before heading on to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama.

In the early 20th century, the United States is a very important market for Bushmills, as well as for other Irish Whiskey producers. American Prohibition in 1920 comes as a large blow to the Irish Whiskey industry, but Bushmills manages to survive. Wilson Boyd, Bushmills’ director at the time, predicts the end of prohibition and has large stores of whiskey ready to export. After the World War II, the distillery is purchased by Isaac Wolfson and, in 1972, it is taken over by Irish Distillers, meaning that Irish Distillers controls the production of all Irish whiskey at the time. In June 1988, Irish Distillers is bought by French liquor group Pernod Ricard.

In June 2005, the distillery is bought by Diageo for £200 million. Diageo announces a large advertising campaign in order to regain market share for Bushmills.

In May 2008, the Bank of Ireland issues a new series of sterling banknotes in Northern Ireland which all feature an illustration of the Old Bushmills Distillery on the obverse side, replacing the previous notes series which depicts Queen’s University Belfast.

In November 2014 it is announced that Diageo is to trade the Bushmills brand with Jose Cuervo in exchange for the 50% of the Don Julio brand of tequila that Diageo does not already own.

Some Bushmills offerings have performed well at international Spirits ratings competitions. In particular, its Black Bush Finest Blended Whiskey receives double gold medals at the 2007 and 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competitions. It also receives a well-above-average score of 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute in 2008 and 2011.


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Establishment of the Central Bank of Ireland

central-bank-of-irelandThe Central Bank of Ireland is established on February 1, 1943, when the Central Bank Act 1942 comes into effect which renames the Currency Commission.

The Central Bank of Ireland is Ireland’s central bank, and as such part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). It is also the country’s financial services regulator for most categories of financial firms. It is the issuer of Irish pound banknotes and coinage until the introduction of the euro currency, and now provides this service for the European Central Bank.

The Central Bank, however, does not initially acquire many of the characteristics of a central bank:

  • It is not given custody of the cash reserves of the commercial banks
  • It has no statutory power to restrict credit, though it can promote it
  • The Bank of Ireland remains the government’s banker
  • The conditions for influencing credit through open-market operations does not yet exist
  • Ireland’s external monetary reserves are largely held as external assets of the commercial banks

The mid-1960s see the Bank take over the normal day-to-day operations of exchange control from the Department of Finance. The Central Bank broadens its activities over the decades, but it remains in effect a currency board until the 1970s.

Since January 1, 1972 the Central Bank has been the banker of the Government of Ireland in accordance with the Central Bank Act 1971, which can be seen in legislative terms as completing the long transition from a currency board to a fully functional central bank.

Its head office is located on Dame Street, Dublin, where the public may exchange non-current Irish coinage and currency, both pre- and post-decimalization, for euros. It also operates from premises in Spencer Dock, Iveagh Court, and College Green. The Currency Centre at Sandyford is the currency manufacture, warehouse, and distribution site of the bank.

By March 2017 its city centre staff will move to a new building at North Wall Quay.