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


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Death of Harpist & Composer Turlough O’Carolan

turlough-ocarolanTurlough O’Carolan, a blind early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition, dies in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon on March 25, 1738.

Although not a composer in the classical sense, O’Carolan is considered by many to be Ireland’s first great composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition are still living as late as 1792, and ten, including Arthur O’Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó hAmhsaigh, attend the Belfast Harp Festival. Ó hAmhsaigh plays some of O’Carolan’s music but dislikes it for being too modern. Some of O’Carolan’s own compositions show influences of the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of “Gaelic Harping.”

O’Carolan is born in 1670 in Nobber, County Meath, where his father is a blacksmith. The family moves from Meath to Ballyfarnon in 1684. In Roscommon, his father takes a job with the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford House. Mrs. MacDermott Roe gives Turlough an education, and he shows talent in poetry. After being blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen O’Carolan is apprenticed by Mrs. MacDermott Roe to a good harper. At the age of twenty-one, being given a horse and a guide, he sets out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons.

For almost fifty years, O’Carolan journeys from one end of Ireland to the other, composing and performing his tunes. One of his earliest compositions is about Brigid Cruise, with whom he is infatuated. Brigid is the teenage daughter of the schoolmaster at the school for the blind attended by O’Carolan in Cruisetown. In 1720, at age 50, O’Carolan marries Mary Maguire. Their first family home is a cottage on a parcel of land near the town of Manachain, now Mohill, in County Leitrim, where they settle. They have seven children, six daughters and one son. Mary dies in 1733.

Turlough O’Carolan dies at Alderford House on March 25, 1738. He is buried in the MacDermott Roe family crypt in Kilronan Burial Ground near Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. The annual O’Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and work in Keadue, County Roscommon.

A bronze monument by sculptor Oisín Kelly depicting Turlough O’Carolan playing his harp is erected on a plinth at the Market Square, Mohill, on August 10, 1986, and is unveiled by Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.

A statue is erected to him at his place of birth in 2002, during the Annual O’Carolan Harp Festival, the first of which is held in Nobber in 1988.


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Death of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress

Charles Thomson, Irish-born Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, dies in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, on August 16, 1824.

Thomson is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Londonderry, to Scots-Irish parents. After the death of his mother in 1739, his father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and his brothers. His father dies at sea and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London Township, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors’ American Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name (as secretary) appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he is misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. According to Thomas Jefferson, writing to John Adams, Thomson becomes senile in his old age, unable to recognize members of his own household.


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Birth of Charles Thomson, American Revolution Patriot

charles-thomsonCharles Thomson, Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Derry, on November 29, 1729.

After the death of his mother in 1739, Thomson’s father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. The father dies at sea, and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietorsAmerican Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. According to biographer Boyd Schlenther, Thomson “took a direct role in the conduct of foreign affairs.” Fred S. Rolater has suggested that Charles Thomson was essentially the “Prime Minister of the United States.” Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he was misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. Charles Thomson dies on August 16, 1824, in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.