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


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Death of John McElroy, Founder of Boston College

Death of Jesuit John McElroy, the founder of Boston College, at age of 95 in Frederick, Maryland, on September 12, 1877.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1782 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the younger of two sons. In the hopes of providing a better life for John and his brother Anthony, their father, a farmer, finances their travel to the United States. In 1803 the two young men board a ship leaving the port of Londonderry and arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 26. McElroy eventually settles in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and becomes a merchant.

In 1806, McElroy enters Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., the same year he enters the novitiate of the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He eventually manages the finances of Georgetown College and in 1808 erects the tower building. He managed the school’s finances so well that through the period of economic hardship following the War of 1812, he is able to send several Jesuits to Rome to study.

McElroy is ordained in May 1817, after less than two years of preparation. As a new priest, he is assigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown as an assistant pastor. In his short time at Trinity, he contributes to the growth of the congregation and enlarging of the church building. This is achieved by increasing the monthly subscription for congregation members from 12½ cents to $12.50 on July 3, 1819. The following day he travels to most of the congregation members’ homes and collects $2,000 in pledges. He immediately sets to work having the Church modified to include two lateral-wing chapels, which are first used on October 3, 1819.

On January 11, 1819, McElroy is granted United States citizenship. Also in 1819, McElroy starts a Sunday School for black children who are taught prayers and catechism simultaneously with spelling and reading, by volunteer members of the congregation. McElroy spends his remaining years in Georgetown teaching the lower grades.

In 1823, McElroy begins negotiations with the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for the establishment of a school for girls in Frederick. In 1824, the St. John’s Benevolent Female Free School is founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph at 200 East Second Street in Frederick. In 1825, McElroy sets to work replacing the pre-American Revolution log cabin that houses the school with a modern building large enough to also house an orphanage.

McElroy’s next task is to found an educational institution for boys. On August 7, 1828, the construction of St. John’s Literary Institute begins. The following year the construction is completed and the school is opened, a school which is currently operating under the name of Saint John’s Catholic Prep.

In October 1847, McElroy is welcomed in Boston, Massachusetts, by the Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the North End. Bishop Fitzpatrick sets McElroy to work on bringing a college to Boston.

In 1853, McElroy finds a property in the South End where the city jail once stood. After two years of negotiations the project falls through due to zoning issues. A new site is identified and city officials endorse the sale. In 1858, Bishop Fitzpatrick and Father McElroy break ground for Boston College, and for the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Classes began in the fall of 1864, and continue at this location until 1913 when the college moves to its current location at Chestnut Hill. Initially Boston College offers a 7-year program including both high school and college. This joint program continues until 1927 when the high school is separately incorporated.

In 1868, McElroy retires to the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. He visits Georgetown for the final time in 1872 to celebrate his golden jubilee. His eyesight is failing and while moving through his home he falls, fracturing his femur, which eventually leads to his death. Father John McElroy dies September 12, 1877 at the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. For some years leading up to his death, he is regarded as the oldest priest in the United States and the oldest Jesuit in the world. He is buried in the Novitiate Cemetery. In 1903, the Jesuits withdraw from Frederick and the graves are moved from the Frederick Jesuit Novitiate Cemetery to St. John’s Cemetery.

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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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Birth of Sister Anthony, Mary Ellen O’Connell

Mary Ellen O’Connell, Roman Catholic Religious Sister better known as Sister Anthony, S.C., is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on August 14, 1814.

Connell is the daughter of William O’Connell (1769-1841) and Catherine Murphy (-1821). In 1821, she emigrates with her family to Boston, and attends the Ursuline Academy in Charlestown, Massachusetts. On June 5, 1835 she enters the novitiate of the American Sisters of Charity in St. Joseph’s Valley, Maryland, founded by Saint Elizabeth Seton, and is professed in 1837, taking the name of Sister Anthony. Soon after, she goes to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sister Anthony arrives in Cincinnati in 1837 to begin her work at St. Peter’s Orphan Asylum and School for girls. Given charge of St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum for boys when it is begun in 1852, she later oversees the combining of the two asylums in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Cumminsville. She is in Cincinnati through 1852, when the Sisters in Cincinnati become independent of their founding motherhouse in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She is placed in charge of St. John’s Hostel for Invalids, a new hospital.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Sisters volunteer as nurses. More than one-third of the community, which by then has more than one hundred members, serve. In June, 1861 Sister Anthony is one of six Sisters of Charity who go to Camp Dennison, about 15 miles from Cincinnati. A request is made from Cumberland, Virginia for nursing assistance, and eight sisters are sent to serve the wounded of both armies.

The Battle of Shiloh brings ten sisters to the scene including Sister Anthony. Some describe her word as being law with officers, doctors, and soldiers once she has established herself as a prudent and trusted administrator and nurse. She and other sisters often are picked to treat wounded prisoners of war since they show no bias in serving rebel, yank, white, or black soldiers.

When Sister Anthony serves at Shiloh she becomes known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” and “the Florence Nightingale of America.” She goes out to the battlefield to help bring in the sick and dying and also develops the Battlefield Triage. Her method is “the first recognizably modern triage techniques in war zones, saved countless lives through faster hospital treatment and won her praise from President Lincoln.” Her medical skills allow her to intervene to save soldiers’ limbs from amputation.

Sister Anthony also serves at the battlefields of Winchester, VA, the Cumberland Gap, TN, Richmond, VA, Nashville, TN, Gallipolis, OH, Culpeper Court House, VA, Murfreesboro, TN, Pittsburg Landing, TN, and Lynchburg, VA. She also serves on a hospital ship on the Ohio River. She sees no distinction between Union and Confederate soldiers. She becomes personally acquainted with Jefferson Davis and knows a number of generals on both sides of the conflict.

After the war, in 1866, Joseph C. Butler and a friend, Louis Worthington, purchase a large building at Sixth and Lock Street, to present to Sister Anthony as a gift in recognition of the sisters service during the war. There are two conditions: that no one be excluded from the hospital because of color or religion, and that the hospital be named “The Hospital of the Good Samaritan,” to honor the sisters’ kindness. It opens that same year as the St. Joseph Foundling and Maternity Hospital. It still serves as St. Joseph Hospital, a residential facility for children and adults with severe mental and multiple physical disabilities.

Sister Anthony is also recognized for her work during the yellow fever epidemic of 1877. She retires from active service in 1880, and dies in 1897 in Cumminsville, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sister Anthony’s portrait hangs in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.


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Death of Charles G. Halpine, Journalist, Author & Soldier

Charles Graham Halpine (Halpin), Irish journalist, author and soldier during the American Civil War, dies on August 3, 1868, in New York City.

Born at Oldcastle, County Meath, on November 20, 1829, Halpine is the son of the Rev. Nicholas John Halpin. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, until 1846, with original intentions for the medical profession, but ultimately prefers the law. In his leisure time he writes for the press. The sudden death of his father and his own early marriage compel him to adopt journalism as a profession.

In 1851 he emigrates to the United States, and takes up residence in Boston, where he becomes assistant editor of The Boston Post, and, with Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, commences a humorous journal called The Carpet Bag, which is unsuccessful. Afterwards he resides in Washington, D.C., where he acts as the correspondent of The New York Times.

After moving back to New York he secures employment with the New York Herald, and in a few months establishes relations with several periodicals. He undertakes a great variety of literary work, most of which is entirely ephemeral. He next becomes associate editor of The New York Times, for which he writes in 1855 and 1856 the Nicaragua correspondence at the time of William Walker‘s filibustering expedition. In 1857 he becomes principal editor and part proprietor of the New York Leader, which under his management rapidly increases in circulation.

At the beginning of the American Civil War in April 1861, he enlists in the 69th New York Infantry, in which he is soon elected a lieutenant, and serves during the three months for which he has volunteered. He is then transferred to the staff of General David Hunter as assistant-adjutant-general with the rank of major, and soon afterwards goes with him to Missouri to relieve General John Charles Frémont. He accompanies General Hunter to Hilton Head, and while there writes a series of burlesque poems in the assumed character of an Irish private. Several of them are contributed to the New York Herald in 1862 under the pseudonym of “Miles O’Reilly,” and with additional articles are issued in two volumes entitled Life and Adventures, Songs, Services, and Speeches of Private Miles O’Reilly, 47th Regiment New York Volunteers (1864), and Baked Meats of the Funeral, a Collection of Essays, Poems, Speeches, and Banquets, by Private Miles O’Reilly, late of the 47th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry, 10th Army Corps. Collected, revised, and edited, with the requisite corrections of punctuation, spelling, and grammar, by an Ex-Colonel of the Adjutant-General’s Department, with whom the Private formerly served as Lance-Corporal of Orderlies (1866).

Halpine is subsequently assistant-adjutant-general on General Henry W. Halleck‘s staff with the rank of colonel in 1862, and accompanies General David Hunter as a staff-officer on his expedition up the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1864. On his return to New York he resigns his commission in consequence of his bad eyesight, receiving the brevet of brigadier-general of volunteers.

He then makes New York his home and resumes his literary work. He becomes editor and, later, proprietor of the Citizen, a newspaper issued by the citizens’ association to advocate reforms in the civil administration of New York City. In 1867 he is elected registrar of the county of New York by a coalition of republicans and democrats. Incessant labour brings on insomnia. He has recourse to opiates, and his death in New York City on August 3, 1868 is caused by an undiluted dose of chloroform.


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Birth of Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor

Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Brosna, County Kerry, on July 4, 1870. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin County from 1924 to 1935.

At seventeen O’Connor leaves school to become a stonemason. In October 1893, at the age of 23, he goes to Boston, where he stays five years. On his return to Ireland, he moves to Dublin, where he soon establishes himself as a “speculative builder” constructing houses in Anglesea Road, Dolphin’s Barn, Eglington Road, Brendan Road, and Donnybrook.

O’Connor joins the Gaelic League in 1900, through which he comes into contact with many of the future leaders of the Independence movement, including Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada. He is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909 and enrolls in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the same night as Éamon de Valera.

While not directly involved during the Easter Rising, O’Connor is recognised and arrested on his return to Dublin and sent to Kilmainham Gaol, then to Richmond Barracks, Wandsworth Prison, and finally to Frongoch internment camp, in North Wales.

On his release in September 1916, O’Connor re-establishes his business and takes up his political activities. He reconnects with members of the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League at 46 Parnell Square, and takes part in the re-organising of the fragmented IRB. He canvasses for by-elections in Kilkenny and Armagh on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates W. T. Cosgrave and Patrick McCartan.

O’Connor is involved with the revolutionary Sinn Féin party during the time of the First Dáil, handling money and hiding documents for Michael Collins. He purchases 76 Harcourt Street for Michael Collins, following a raid on the Sinn Féin Office at No. 6. There he installs a secret recess for private papers and means of escape through the skylight. When the recess escapes discovery following a raid, he goes on to construct hiding places in many of the other houses used by the movement. He is one of the shareholders of the National Land Bank which is set up in March 1920 at 68 Lower Leeson Street.

O’Connor plays a role in the “National Loan,” raised by Collins to fund the fledgling Dáil Éireann. The loan, which had been declared illegal, is lodged in the individual bank accounts of the trustees. The gold is kept under the floor of O’Connor’s house until 1922.

O’Connor takes the pro-Treaty side during the subsequent split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election, in the Dublin County constituency.

After the death in November 1923 of Cumann na nGaedheal TD Michael Derham, O’Connor is the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate at the Dublin County by-election on March 19, 1924, when he is elected to the 4th Dáil ahead of Seán MacEntee. He retains his seat at the next four general elections, joining Fine Gael when Cumann na nGaedheal merges in 1933 with the National Centre Party and the Blueshirts. He serves as a Trustee of Cumann na nGaedheal.

After his death on February 7, 1935, the 1935 Dublin County by-election is won by Cecil Lavery of Fine Gael.


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Birth of Writer John Boyle O’Reilly

John Boyle O’Reilly, poet, journalist and fiction writer, is born in Dowth, County Meath on June 28, 1844.

O’Reilly is the third child of a headmaster and a schoolteacher. When he is fifteen he moves to Lancashire and lives with his aunt and uncle. There he becomes a reporter with a local newspaper and joins the 11th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers in 1861. He returns to Ireland in 1863 and enlists with the 10th Royal Hussars in Dublin. However, after realising the way the British are treating his fellow people he leaves the army and joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood around 1865.

In 1866 O’Reilly, along with many other members of the Brotherhood, are arrested and put on trial for treason. O’Reilly is found guilty and sentenced to death however, due to his young age, his sentence is reduced to 20 years penal servitude. He spends a year and a half in some English prisons before being transported to Western Australia in 1867, arriving in 1868.

A month after arriving O’Reilly is moved to the town of Bunbury where he starts receiving attention for protesting the chopping down of a tree. A year after arriving he decides to escape from the colony with the help of a local Catholic priest and some farmers from the nearby town of Dardanup. In February 1869 O’Reilly absconds from his convict camp and makes his way towards the Leschenault Peninsula where he waits for a ship to arrive. After approximately two weeks O’Reilly escapes on the Gazelle bound for the United States, arriving there in November 1869.

O’Reilly moves to Boston and becomes a well-known figure in the town where he becomes involved in civil rights, sports, and Irish American causes. He also becomes part owner of The Pilot newspaper. He publishes four books of poetry – Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), Songs, Legends and Ballads (1878), The Statues in the Block (1881) and In Bohemia (1886). He also publishes a novel Moondyne (1879) based on the convict of the same name and O’Reilly’s experiences in Western Australia. It becomes his most popular work. He also writes one last book of poems entitled Watchwords, which is released after his death.

John Boyle O’Reilly dies in Hull, Massachusetts on August 10, 1890 from heart failure after overdosing on his wife’s medication. His sudden death receives an outpouring of grief and tributes from the Boston community and also globally.

His funeral is held at St. Mary’s Church in Charlestown on August 13 and is attended by thousands. The streets near the church are lined with mourners. His wife does not attend the funeral due to grief and is unable to leave her bed. He is originally buried at Calvary Cemetery in Roxbury, but in November 1890 his remains are exhumed and moved to Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.


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The Broad Street Riot

The Broad Street Riot, a massive brawl between Irish Americans and Yankee firefighters, occurs in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1837. At the time of this particular riot, nearly all of Boston’s firefighters are volunteers.

Boston is a major center for immigration in the 19th century due to its large seaport. Nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment is strong, especially among working-class men whose jobs and wages are threatened by an influx of poor Irish immigrants. On Broad Street, it is common for groups of nativist Yankees to vandalize Irish homes and attack lone Irishmen.

At about 3:00 PM on Sunday, June 11, 1837, Fire Engine Company 20 returns to their station on East Street from a fire at the Boston Neck. Some of the men go straight home from there, however most stop at a nearby pub for drinks. The pub is apparently operating illegally as it is a Sunday and, in Massachusetts, blue laws are then in effect.

The men have just emerged from the pub “in a more or less bellicose mood,” when they collide with a crowd of about a hundred Irishmen who are on their way to join a large funeral procession on Sea Street. Nearly all of the firefighters pass through the crowd without incident, however, when 19-year-old George Fay, who has reportedly had too much to drink, insults or shoves several of the Irishmen, and a fight breaks out. Fay’s friends rush to his aid, but the firemen are outnumbered and are badly beaten. Their foreman, W.W. Miller, orders them back into the firehouse.

By some accounts, the Irishmen then take over the firehouse. According to others, the crowd had begun to disperse, and the matter might have ended there had the foreman not “lost his head completely.” In any case, Miller orders his men to sound the emergency alarm. First they roll their wagon into the street, ringing the fire alarm bell. Then Miller sends men to ring the church bells, summoning all the fire engines in Boston. According to the Boston Transcript, Miller then runs to another firehouse, shouting, “The Irish have risen upon us, and are going to kill us!”

Company 9, responding to what they think is a legitimate fire alarm, arrives just as the funeral procession is turning onto New Broad Street. Their horse-drawn wagon veers into the crowd, scattering and knocking down the mourners. The Irish assume the assault is deliberate, and another brawl erupts. As more fire companies arrive, and Irishmen pour out of nearby houses into the street to help their friends and relatives, the fight escalates into a full-blown riot. Before long, an estimated 800 men are doing battle with sticks, stones, bricks, and cudgels while at least 10,000 more urged them on. Protestant workmen come running to the aid of the firefighters, while underfoot, injured and unconscious men lay sprawled on the pavement.

Outnumbered, the Irish are defeated and driven back to their homes. That is when the home invasions begin. A “gang of stout boys and loafers” raid nearby houses, breaking doors and windows, and in some cases beating the occupants. Furniture and other possessions are destroyed and thrown into the street. Some Irish families lose their homes altogether.

After raging for about three hours, the riot is quelled when Mayor Samuel Atkins Eliot calls in the National Lancers, a newly formed cavalry company, and some 800 other members of the state militia with fixed bayonets. Among them are the Montgomery Guards, a short-lived Irish American infantry company which is forced to disband the following year due to the extreme nativist and anti-Catholic sentiment in Boston.

No immediate deaths result from the violence. Many people suffer serious wounds, however, and there is no nearby hospital to care for them. Given the lack of hospital and police records, the number of people who eventually die of their injuries cannot be determined. Thousands of dollars in damage is done to property belonging to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants.

The militia, being composed nearly entirely of Yankees, arrest 34 Irishmen and 4 Yankees. A grand jury indicts 14 of the Irishmen and all four of the Yankees. At the municipal court trial, a Yankee jury acquits the four Yankees and convicts four Irishmen, three of whom are sentenced to several months of hard labor.

Three months later, in September, Mayor Eliot establishes a professional, paid fire department, with all new hires requiring the approval of the mayor and aldermen. The Boston Police Department is established the following year.