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


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Birth of John Purroy Mitchel, the 95th Mayor of New York City

John Purroy Mitchel, the 95th mayor of New York City (1914-17), is born on July 19, 1879 at Fordham, Bronx, New York City. He is remembered for his short career as leader of reform politics in New York as well as for his early death as a U.S. Army Air Service officer in the last months of World War I.

Mitchel is born to James Mitchel, a New York City fire marshal, and Mary Purroy who works as a schoolteacher until her marriage. His father is Irish, and Presbyterian in faith, the son of the famous Irish nationalist John Mitchel, and a veteran of the Confederate States Army. Two of his uncles were killed fighting for the Confederacy. His maternal grandfather, Venezuelan-born Juan Bautista Purroy, was that country’s consul in New York, which makes Mitchel the first Mayor of New York City of Latino descent. His great-grandfather, José Joaquin de Purroy, was a lawyer from Spain who settled in Venezuela. He graduates from a Catholic secondary school at Fordham Preparatory School in the late 1890s. He obtains his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in 1899 and graduates from New York Law School in 1902 with honors. He then pursues a career as a private attorney.

In December 1906, Mitchel’s career takes flight when he is hired by family friend and New York City corporation counsel William B. Ellison to investigate the office of John F. Ahearn, borough president of Manhattan, for incompetence, waste and inefficiency. As a result, Ahearn is dismissed as borough president of Manhattan. He begins his career as assistant corporation counsel and then becomes a member of the Commissioners of Accounts, from which he investigates city departments. He gains results and recognition for his thorough and professional investigations into various city departments and high-ranking officials. Along with the help of Henry Bruère and other staff members of the Bureau of Municipal Research, he turns the insignificant Commissioners of Accounts into an administration of importance.

The young Mitchel’s reputation as a reformer garners him the support of the anti-Tammany forces. In 1909, he is elected president of the New York City Board of Aldermen, an organization similar to the current New York City Council. As president of the Board of Aldermen, he is able to enact fiscal reforms. He cuts waste and improves accounting practices. Also, he unsuccessfully fights for a municipal-owned transit system and the city sees him vote against allowing the Interborough Rapid Transit and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit companies permission to extend their existing subway and elevated lines. For a six-week period in 1910 after current Mayor William J. Gaynor is injured by a bullet wound, he serves as acting mayor. His biggest accomplishment during his short tenure is the act of neutrality during a garment industry strike.

As the mayoral election approaches in 1913, the Citizens Municipal Committee of 107 sets out to find a candidate that will give New York “a non-partisan, efficient and progressive government.” They are assisted in this endeavor by the Fusion Executive Committee, led by Joseph M. Price of the City Club of New York. After nine ballots, Mitchel is nominated as a candidate for mayor. During his campaign, he focuses on making City Hall a place of decency and honesty. He also focuses on business as he promises New Yorkers that he will modernize the administrative and financial machinery and the processes of city government.

At the age of 34, Mitchel is elected mayor on the Republican Party slate as he wins an overwhelming victory, defeating Democratic candidate Edward E. McCall by 121,000 votes, thus becoming the second youngest mayor of New York City. He is often referred to as “The Boy Mayor of New York.”

Mitchel’s administration introduces widespread reforms, particularly in the Police Department, which has long been highly corrupt and which is cleaned up by Mitchel’s Police Commissioner Arthur H. Woods. Woods is able to break up gangs and in his first year in office and he arrests more than 200 criminals. Woods also launches an attack on robbery, prostitution, pickpocketing and gambling. Woods ultimately transforms the police department into a crime-fighting machine. Mitchel aims to get rid of corruption wherever he sees it. His administration sets out to restructure and modernize New York City and its government. He is able to expand the city’s regulatory activities, runs the police department more honestly and efficiently and, much like in 1910, he maintains impartiality during garment and transportation workers strikes in 1916.

At 1:30 p.m. on April 17, 1914, Michael P. Mahoney fires a gun at the mayor as Mitchel is getting in his car to go to lunch. The bullet ricochets off a pedestrian and hits Frank Lyon Polk, New York City’s corporation counsel, in the chin.

Mitchel’s early popularity is soon diminished due to his fiscal policies and vision of education. He is heavily criticized for combining vocational and academic courses. He begins to trim the size of the Board of Education and attempts to control teachers’ salaries.

Mitchel advocates universal military training to prepare for war. In a speech at Princeton University on March 1, 1917, he describes universal military training as “the [only] truly democratic solution to the problem of preparedness on land.” His universal military training alienates New Yorkers and is not popular. Many feel he focuses too much on military patriotism and is indifferent to politics. This soon leads to a loss of support for his re-election bid in 1917.

Mitchel runs again for mayor in the highly charged wartime election of 1917. His re-election bid takes a hit as many New Yorkers feel he is socializing with the social elite, focuses too much on the economy and efficiency and his concern on military preparedness. He narrowly loses the Republican primary to William M. Bennett after a contentious recount but then runs for re-election as a pro-war Fusion candidate.

Mitchel’s main campaign theme is patriotism, with a media campaign that denounces Germans, Irish, and Jews as unpatriotic sympathizers with the enemy cause. He runs against Republican Bennett, antiwar Socialist Morris Hillquit, and the Tammany Hall Democrat John F. Hylan. Hylan ridicules and denounces Mitchel’s upper-class reform as an affront to democracy and to the voters. He wins by a landslide without taking a clear position on the war. Mitchel barely beats Hillquit for second place.

After failing to get re-elected, Mitchel joins the Air Service as a flying cadet, completing training in San Diego and obtaining the rank of major. On the morning of July 6, 1918, when returning from a short military training flight to Gerstner Field, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, his plane suddenly goes into a nose dive, causing him to fall from his plane due to an unfastened seatbelt. He plummets 500 feet to his death, his body landing in a marsh about a half mile south of the field.

Mitchel’s body is returned to Manhattan, New York City. His funeral is held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City on July 11, 1918.

Mitchel Field on Long Island is named for him in 1918. A bronze memorial plaque with his likeness is also affixed between the two stone pylons at the western end of Hamilton Hall, the main college building at Columbia University. A plaque of his likeness is on the entrance to the base of the Central Park Reservoir elevated cinder jogging track at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue entrance to Central Park. The New York City Fire Department operates a fireboat named John Purroy Mitchel from 1921 to 1966.


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Birth of Herbert Brenon, Director, Actor & Screenwriter

herbert-brenonHerbert Brenon, Irish film director, actor and screenwriter during the era of silent movies through the 1930s, is born Alexander Herbert Reginald St. John Brenon on January 13, 1880.

Brenon is born at 25 Crosthwaite Park, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin) to journalist, poet, and politician Edward St. John Brenon and Francis Harries.

In 1882, the family moves to London, where Brenon is educated at St. Paul’s School and at King’s College London. He starts out as a stagehand in New York City and by 1909 he operates a small picture theatre in Pennsylvania. Before becoming a director, he performs in vaudeville acts with his wife, Helen Oberg.

In 1911 Brenon is hired as a writer by Carl Laemmle, directing his first short the following year. Signed by William Fox in 1915, he graduates to feature films. With Paramount Pictures from 1923, he directs several spectacular productions with British themes, including the silent version of Beau Geste (1926). He regards sound pictures with a measure of apprehension.

Some of his more noteworthy films are the first movie adaptations of Peter Pan (1924) and the aforementioned Beau Geste (1926), Sorrell and Son (1927) for which he is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in the 1st Academy Awards, Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) with Lon Chaney, and The Flying Squad (1940), his last.

Brenon returns to Great Britain in 1934, but his career is well on the decline and he retires in 1940.

Herbert Brenon dies in Los Angeles, California on June 21, 1958 and is interred in a private mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.


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Birth of Mary McAleese, 8th President of Ireland

Mary Patricia McAleese, Irish Independent politician who serves as the 8th President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 27, 1951. She is the second female president and is first elected in 1997 succeeding Mary Robinson, making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. She is re-elected unopposed for a second term in office in 2004 and is the first President of Ireland to have come from either Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan, McAleese is the eldest of nine children in a Roman Catholic family. Her family is forced to leave the area by loyalists when The Troubles break out. Educated at St. Dominic’s High School, she also spends some time when younger with the Poor Clares, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. She opposes abortion and divorce.

In 1975, McAleese is appointed Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1987, she returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University. She works as a barrister and also works as a journalist with RTÉ.

McAleese uses her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She describes the theme of her Presidency as “Building Bridges.” This bridge-building materialises in her attempts to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. These steps include celebrating The Twelfth at Áras an Uachtaráin and she even incurs criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in Dublin. Despite being a practising Roman Catholic, she holds liberal views regarding homosexuality and women priests. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In spite of some minor controversies, McAleese remains popular and her Presidency is regarded as successful.

McAleese receives awards and honorary doctorates throughout her career. On May 3, 2007, she is awarded The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. On October 31, 2007, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Otago, New Zealand. On May 19, 2009, she becomes the third living person to be awarded the freedom of Kilkenny, succeeding Brian Cody and Séamus Pattison. The ceremony, at which she is presented with two hurleys, takes place at Kilkenny Castle. On May 24, 2009, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. On May 22, 2010, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Fordham University, in the Bronx, New York City, where she delivers the commencement speech to the class of 2010. On November 8, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 8, 2013, a ceremony is held to rename a bridge on the M1 motorway near Drogheda as the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge to honour McAleese’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.