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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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Birth of John MacKenna, Chilean Military Officer

Brigadier John (Juan) Mackenna, Chilean military officer and hero of the Chilean War of Independence, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan on October 26, 1771. He is considered to be the creator of the Corps of Military Engineers of the Chilean Army.

He is born John MacKenna, the son of William MacKenna of Willville House near Monaghan and Eleanora O’Reilly and, on his mother’s side, a nephew to Count Alejandro O’Reilly. Count O’Reilly takes an interest in the young Mackenna and takes him to Spain where he studies at the Royal School of Mathematics in Barcelona. He also trains in the Royal Military Academy as a Military Engineer between 1785 and 1791.

In 1787 Mackenna is accepted into the Irish Brigade of the Spanish Army, and joins the army fighting in Ceuta in northern Africa, under Lieutenant Colonel Luis Urbina, and is promoted to Second Lieutenant. In 1791 he resumes his studies in Barcelona and acts as liaison with mercenaries recruited in Europe. The following year he is promoted to Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Engineers. In the War of the Pyrenees against the French, he fights in Rosselló under General Ricardos and there meets the future liberator of Argentina, José de San Martín. For his exploits in defence of the Plaza de Rozas, he is promoted to captain in 1795.

For the purpose of a new assignment, in October 1796, Mackenna leaves Spain for South America. He arrives in Buenos Aires and then travels to Mendoza and to Chile across the Andes and then to Peru. Once in Lima, he contacts Ambrosio O’Higgins, another Irishman, at that time Viceroy of Perú, who names him Governor of Osorno and puts him in charge of the reconstruction works for the southern Chilean town.

In this capacity, Mackenna convinces the families of Castro, on Chiloé Island, to move to Osorno to found a colony there. He builds the storehouse and two mills, as well as the road between Osorno and present-day Puerto Montt. His successful administration provokes jealousy from Chile’s captain-general Gabriel de Avilés, who fears that Mackenna and Ambrosio O’Higgins will create an Irish colony in Osorno. Both Irishmen are loyal to the Spanish crown, though Mackenna has good relations with O’Higgins’ son Bernardo, the future emancipator of Chile, and is also connected with the Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda and his group of supporters of South American independence. When Ambrosio O’Higgins dies in 1801, Avilés is appointed viceroy of Peru. It takes him eight years to remove Mackenna, O’Higgins’s protégé, from Osorno.

In 1809 Mackenna marries Josefina Vicuña y Larraín, an eighteen-year-old Chilean woman from a family with revolutionary connections, with whom he has three children. After the Declaration of Chilean Independence in 1810, he adheres to the Patriot side and is commissioned by the first Chilean government to prepare a plan for the defense of the country and oversees the equipment of the new Chilean Army. At this juncture he trains the first military engineers for the new army.

The following year Mackenna is called to the defence committee of the new Republic of Chile, and in 1811 is appointed governor of Valparaíso. Owing to political feuds with José Miguel Carrera and his brothers, he is dismissed from the post and taken prisoner. He is a firm ally of Bernardo O’Higgins, who appoints him as one of the key officers to fight the Spanish army of General José Antonio Pareja. His major military honour is attained in 1814 at the Battle of Membrillar, in which the general assures a temporary collapse of the royal forces.

As a reward for his victory, Mackenna is appointed commandant-general by Bernardo O’Higgins, but after a coup d’état led by Luis Carrera he is exiled to Argentina in 1814, when Carrera comes to power. Mackenna dies in Buenos Aires on November 21, 1814, following a duel with Carrera.

A bust of General Mackenna is publicly presented to Monaghan County Museum on August 5, 2004 by his direct descendant, Luis Valentín Ferrada. At the presentation ceremony, MacKenna, the man “unreservedly regarded as the greatest of County Monaghan’s exiles” is commemorated in speeches by Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Duffy, Bishop of Clogher and by his descendant Senor Ferrada who declares, “In this city of Monaghan, very near to Willville House, the tombs of my ancestors are in the old cemetery. There, my own blood is interred in the sacred earth.”


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The Battle of Brihuega

File source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vendome-and-PhilipV.jpgThe Irish “Hibernia” regiment and other Irish units of Spain fight at the Battle of Brihuega on December 8, 1710 in the War of the Spanish Succession, during the allied retreat from Madrid to Barcelona. The British rearguard under James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope, is cut off within the town of Brihuega and overwhelmed by a Franco-Spanish army under Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme. Brihuega with other events brings an end to the British participation in the war.

The Duke of Vendôme sets out from Talavera de la Reina with his troops and pursues the retreating British army with a speed perhaps never equalled in such a season and in such a country. The middle-aged Frenchman leads his Franco-Spanish army day and night. In typical Vendôme style, he swims, at the head of his cavalry, the flooded Henares and in a few days overtakes Stanhope, who is at Brihuega with the left wing of the Grand Alliance army.

“Nobody with me,” said the British general, “imagined that they had any foot within some days’ march of us and our misfortune is owing to the incredible diligence which their army made.” Stanhope has barely enough time to send off a messenger to the centre of the army, which is some leagues from Brihuega, before Vendôme is upon him on the evening of December 8. The next morning the town is invested on every side.

Blasting the walls of Brihuega with heavy cannon, a mine is sprung under one of the gates. The British keep up a terrible fire until their powder is spent. They then fight desperately against overwhelming odds as Vendôme’s men storm the city with bayonets fixed and begin to take the town by bloody close quarters fighting, street by street. The British set fire to the buildings which their assailants have taken but in vain. The British general sees that further resistance will produce only a useless carnage. He concludes a capitulation and his army becomes prisoners of war on honourable terms.

Scarcely had Vendôme signed the capitulation, when he learns that General Guido Starhemberg is marching to the relief of Stanhope. On December 10 the two meet in the bloody Battle of Villaviciosa, after which Starhemberg continues the allied retreat.

The British troops do not remain in captivity for very long before they are exchanged and sent home in October 1711.

The defeat helps justify the Harley ministry‘s plan to agree to a compromise peace with France at the Treaty of Utrecht. Opponents of the deal protest on the grounds of “No Peace Without Spain.” Nonetheless Allied forces are withdrawn, with the final action taking place at the Siege of Barcelona in 1714.


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Birth of Ron Delany, Olympic Gold Medalist

ron-delanyRonald Michael Delany, athlete who specialises in middle distance running, is born in Arklow, County Wicklow on March 6, 1935. He wins a gold medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. He later earns a bronze medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships in Stockholm.

Delany moves with his family to Sandymount, Dublin 4 when he is six. He later goes to Sandymount High School and then to Catholic University School. He studies commerce and finance at Villanova University in the United States. While there he is coached by the well-known track coach James F. “Jumbo” Elliott.

Delany’s first achievement of note is reaching the final of the 800 metres at the 1954 European Athletics Championships in Bern. In 1956, he becomes the seventh runner to join the club of four-minute milers, but nonetheless struggles to make the Irish team for the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne.

Delany qualifies for the Olympic 1500 metres final, in which local runner John Landy is the big favourite. Delany keeps close to Landy until the final lap, when he starts a crushing final sprint, winning the race in a new Olympic record. He thereby becomes the first Irishman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics since Bob Tisdall in 1932. The Irish people learn of its new champion at breakfast time. He would be Ireland’s last Olympic champion for 36 years, until Michael Carruth wins the gold medal in boxing at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Delany wins the bronze medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships. He goes on to represent Ireland once again at the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome, this time in the 800 metres. He finishes sixth in his quarter-final heat.

Delany continues his running career in North America, winning four successive Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles in the mile, adding to his total of four Irish national titles, and three NCAA titles. He is next to unbeatable on indoor tracks over that period, which includes a 40-race winning streak. He breaks the World Indoor Mile Record on three occasions. In 1961 he wins the gold medal in the World University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Delany retires from competitive running in 1962, securing his status as Ireland’s most recognisable Olympian as well as one of the greatest sportsmen and international ambassadors in his country’s history.