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


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Birth of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Canadian Politician

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth.

McGee grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On April 7, 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre F. Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.


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Death of Irish Artist John Butler Yeats

john-butler-yeatsJohn Butler Yeats, Irish artist and the father of William Butler Yeats, Lily Yeats, Elizabeth Corbett Yeats and Jack Butler Yeats, dies in New York City on February 3, 1922. The National Gallery of Ireland holds a number of his portraits in oil and works on paper, including one of his portraits of his son William, painted in 1900. His portrait of John O’Leary (1904) is considered his masterpiece.

Yeats is born on March 16, 1839 in Lawrencetown, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. His parents are William Butler Yeats (1806–1862) and Jane Grace Corbert. He is the eldest of nine children. Educated in Trinity College Dublin and a member of the University Philosophical Society, Yeats begins his career as a lawyer and junior assistant briefly with Isaac Butt before he takes up painting in 1867 and studies at the Heatherley School of Fine Art.

Yeats marries Susan Pollexfen (13 July 1841 – 3 January 1900) on September 10, 1863 at St. John’s Church in Sligo. Susan Yeats is dismayed when her husband abandons the study of law to become an artist. She is described as a “shadowy figure” who goes “quietly, pitifully, mad.” They have six children: William Butler Yeats, Susan Mary “Lily” Yeats, Elizabeth Corbett “Lolly” Yeats, Robert Corbet Yeats, John “Jack” Butler Yeats and Jane Grace Yeats.

There are few records of his sales, so there is no catalogue of his work in private collections. It is possible that some of his early work may have been destroyed by fire in World War II. It is clear that he has no trouble getting commissions as his sketches and oils are found in private homes in Ireland, England and the United States. His later portraits show great sensitivity to the sitter. However, he is a poor businessman and is never financially secure. He moves frequently and shifts several times between England and Ireland.

In 1907, at the age of 68, he travels to New York aboard the RMS Campania, with his daughter Lily, and never returns to Ireland. In October 1909 he moves into his final home, a boarding house run by the Petitpas sisters which is located at 317 West Twenty-Ninth Street. In New York, he is friendly with members of the Ashcan School of painters.

John Butler Yeats dies in the boarding house on February 3, 1922. Edmund Quinn makes a death mask which is now in the collection of the Yeats Society in Sligo. Yeats is buried in Chestertown Rural Cemetery in Chestertown, New York, next to his friend, Jeanne Robert Foster.


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Death of Nellie Cashman, Philanthropist & Gold Prospector

nellie-cashmanNellie Cashman, nurse, restaurateur, businesswoman, Roman Catholic philanthropist in Arizona, and gold prospector in Alaska, dies on January 4, 1925, in Sisters of St. Anne hospital, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Cashman is born in Midleton, County Cork, one of two daughters of Patrick and Frances “Fanny” (Cronin) Cashman. Along with her sister, she is brought to the United States around 1850 by her mother, first settling in Boston. As an adolescent, she works as a bellhop in a Boston hotel. In 1865 she and her family migrate to San Francisco, California.

Of the thousands lured by the gold rush fever of the 19th century, few had the staying power or generous spirit of Cashman. She follows gold miners into British Columbia, where, during the early 1870s, she operates a boarding house while learning elementary mining techniques and geology. For the next 50 years, the precious metal leads her to Arizona, Nevada, Mexico, the Canadian Yukon, and north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. In addition to successfully prospecting and running mines, one time owning 11 mines in the Koyukuk District of Alaska, she operates boarding houses, restaurants, and supply depots.

The quality that truly establishes Cashman’s place in mining lore is her charity, which earns her the titles “Angel of Tombstone” and “Saint of the Sourdoughs” while sometimes obscuring her career as a successful miner. As early as 1874, while visiting Victoria, she leads a dangerous rescue effort to free a group of miners trapped by a severe winter storm. Later, during the glory days of Tombstone, Arizona, she helps establish the town’s first hospital and Sacred Heart Church, its first Roman Catholic church. Although she is known to be tough and aggressive in defending her claims, she is also big-hearted. Upon the deaths of her sister and brother-in-law, she takes in her nieces and nephews and raises them as her own.

Around 1889, Cashman is active in the gold camp at Harqua Hala, Arizona, and comes close to marrying Mike Sullivan, one of the original discoverers of gold in that area. Along with mining, she contributes a number of excellent articles to Tucson‘s Arizona Daily Star, in which she discusses history, techniques, types of claims, and personalities in the field.

Cashman spends the last 20 years of her life on Nolan Creek, in the Koyukuk River Basin of Alaska, then the farthest north of any mining camp in the world. She is among about eight women who join a group of approximately 200 miners to brave the harsh environment and isolation in hopes of striking the “big bonanza.” Once a year, she leaves for supplies and equipment, traveling hundreds of miles to Fairbanks, by sled, boat, or wagon. Her spirit of adventure apparently never dies. In 1921, during one of her trips to the outside, she is interviewed for Sunset, a California publication. Then 76, Cashman tells the writer that, although she loves Alaska, she is not so tied to it that she would not pull up stakes if something turned up elsewhere.

Nellie Cashman dies on January 4, 1925, in Sisters of St. Anne hospital in Victoria, one of the hospitals she had helped fund some 40 years earlier. The United States Postal Service honors her with a stamp on October 18, 1994 as part of its “Legends of the West” series.


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The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish-Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is assassinated by Fenian elements on April 7, 1868, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee, born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth, grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On 7 April 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.