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


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Death of William R. Grace, Irish American Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Russell_Grace.jpgWilliam Russell Grace, Irish American politician, the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City, and the founder of W. R. Grace and Company, dies in New York City on March 21, 1904.

Grace is born on May 10, 1832 in Ireland in Riverstown near the Cove of Cork to James Grace and Eleanor May Russell (née Ellen) while the family is away from home. He is raised on Grace property at Ballylinan in Queens County, now County Laois, near the town of Athy. He is a member of a prominent and well-to-do family. In 1846, he sails for New York against the wishes of his father, and works as a printer’s devil and a shoemaker’s helper before returning to Ireland in 1848.

His nephew, Cecil Grace, attempts a crossing of the English Channel in December 1910 in an airplane, flying from Dover to Calais. However, in coming back he becomes disoriented and over Dover flies northeast over the Goodwin Sands toward the North Sea and is lost.

Grace and his father travel to Callao, Peru, in 1851, seeking to establish an Irish agricultural community. While his father returns home, William remains and begins work with the firm of John Bryce and Co., as a ship chandler. In 1854, the company is renamed Bryce, Grace & Company, in 1865, to Grace Brothers & Co., and ultimately to W. R. Grace and Company.

On September 11, 1859, Grace is married to Lillius Gilchrist, the daughter of George W. Gilchrist, a prominent ship builder of Thomaston, Maine, and Mary Jane (née Smalley) Gilchrest. Together, they have eleven children.

Opposing the famous Tammany Hall, Grace is elected as the first Irish American Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880. He conducts a reform administration attacking police scandals, patronage and organized vice, reduces the tax rate, and breaks up the Louisiana State Lottery Company. Defeated in the following election, he is re-elected in 1884 on an Independent ticket but loses again at the following election. During his second term, he receives the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France.

Grace is a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian, at one point contributing a quarter of the aid delivered to Ireland aboard the steamship Constellation during the Irish Famine of 1879. In 1897, he and his brother, Michael, found the Grace Institute for the education of women, especially immigrants.

William R. Grace dies on March 21, 1904 at his residence, 31 East 79th Street, in New York City. His funeral is held at St. Francis Xavier Church on West 16th Street and he is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. At the time of his death his estate is valued at $25,000,000.

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Birth of Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Dancer & Actress

lola-montezMarie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, Irish dancer and actress better known by the stage name Lola Montez, is born in Grange, County Sligo, on February 17, 1821. She becomes famous as a “Spanish dancer,” courtesan, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who makes her Countess of Landsfeld. She uses her influence to institute liberal reforms. At the start of the German revolutions of 1848-1849, she is forced to flee. She proceeds to the United States via Switzerland, France, and London, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.

Gilbert’s family makes their residence at King House in Boyle, County Roscommon, until early 1823, when they journey to Liverpool, thence departing for India on March 14. Gilbert spends much of her childhood in India but is educated in Scotland and England. At age 19 she elopes with Lieutenant Thomas James. The couple separates five years later and, in 1843, Gilbert launches a career as a dancer. Her London debut in June 1843 as “Lola Montez, the Spanish dancer” is disrupted when she is recognized as Mrs. James. The fiasco would probably have ended the career of anyone less beautiful and determined, but Gilbert receives additional dancing engagements throughout Europe. During her travels she reputedly forms liaisons with Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas, among many others.

Late in 1846, Gilbert dances in Munich and Ludwig I of Bavaria is so struck by her beauty that he offers her a castle. She accepts, becomes Baroness Rosenthal and Countess of Lansfeld, and remains as his mistress. Under Gilbert’s influence, Louis inaugurates liberal and anti-Jesuit governmental policies, but his infatuation with her helps to bring about the collapse of his regime in the revolution of 1848. In March of that year Ludwig abdicates in favour of his son. Gilbert flees to London, where in 1849 she marries Lieutenant George Heald, although she has never been divorced from James. Heald later leaves her.

From 1851 to 1853 Gilbert performs in the United States. Her third marriage, to Patrick P. Hull of San Francisco in 1853, ends in divorce soon after she moves to Grass Valley, California. There, among other amusements, she coaches young Lotta Crabtree in singing and dancing. She settles in New York City after an unsuccessful tour of Australia in 1855–1856 and gathers a following as a lecturer on such topics as fashion, gallantry, and beautiful women. An apparently genuine religious conversion leads her to take up various personal philanthropies.

Gilbert publishes Anecdotes of Love; Being a True Account of the Most Remarkable Events Connected with the History of Love; in All Ages and among All Nations (1858), The Arts of Beauty, or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet with Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascination (1858), and Lectures of Lola Montez, Including Her Autobiography (1858). The international notoriety of her heyday persists long after her death and inspires numerous literary and balletic allusions.

Gilbert spends her last days in rescue work among women. By November 1859 she is showing the tertiary effects of syphilis and her body begins to waste away. She dies at the age of 39 on January 17, 1861. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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Killing of Gangster & Bootlegger Jack “Legs” Diamond

jack-legs-diamondJack “Legs” Diamond, gangster, bootlegger, and associate of Arnold Rothstein, is gunned down in Albany, New York on December 18, 1931 while in a drunken stupor following a court case acquittal.

Born to an Irish immigrant family on July 10, 1897, in Philadelphia, Diamond becomes a leading figure in organized crime during the Prohibition era. He establishes liquor-smuggling enterprises in New York City and upstate New York, where he lives for a time after shooting and killing men in his Hotsy Totsy club.

After his mother’s death, Diamond moves with his father and brother to Brooklyn, New York. Growing up impoverished, he turns to street gangs and becomes involved in theft and violent crime as a teen. He later begins to work for gangsters Arnold Rothstein and Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen.

The Prohibition era begins in 1920. With alcohol smuggling a profitable underworld enterprise, Diamond organizes truck heists to seize liquor for his speakeasies. In 1923, he orders the murder of mob boss Nathan “Kid Dropper” Kaplan and usurps power in the world of organized crime for himself, aligning himself with mobsters like Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz. Diamond and Schultz would later become rivals.

Diamond sets up shop as an extremely violent and murderous figure. He earns his “Legs” nickname either due to his quickness when running from a scene of larceny or because of his prodigious dancing skills. He also marries Alice Schiffer in 1926. She remains devoted to him through his strings of crime and mistresses, which includes a notable affair with Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Kiki Roberts.

After a 1929 incident where Diamond publicly kills men in his Hotsy Totsy nightclub, authorities are unable to make the case stick due to the harassment and murder of witnesses. Looking to lie low, Diamond moves to Acra in upstate New York, where he sets up a huge beer-smuggling business.

During the course of his mob career, Diamond is shot on many occasions, receiving hospital treatment and recovering each time, earning the nickname “Clay Pigeon.”

In April 1931, near Catskill, New York, Diamond and colleagues hijack a truck with applejack liquor driven by Gordon Parks, whom they kidnap and torture. Parks survives and manages to reach the police. Diamond is arrested for the attack but later is acquitted in a December trial.

Diamond celebrates his acquittal days later with Roberts and returns drunk to his Albany residence. Early that morning, on December 18, 1931, he is shot and killed. He is buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, Queens on December 23. There is no church service or graveside ceremony. Two hundred family and spectators attend Diamond’s interment, however no criminal figures are spotted.

The mystery remains as to who is behind the killing. Biographer William Kennedy speculates that Diamond was taken out by Albany police via an order from political leader Dan O’Connell. Others say rival gangsters were behind the murder.

On July 1, 1933, Diamond’s widow, Alice Kenny Diamond, is found shot to death in her Brooklyn apartment. It is speculated that she is shot by Diamond’s enemies to keep her quiet.

(From: “Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond Biography” by the Editors of Biography.com, April 2, 2014)


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Birth of William O’Dwyer, 100th Mayor of New York City

william-o-dwyerWilliam O’Dwyer, Irish American politician and diplomat who serves as the 100th Mayor of New York City, holding that office from 1946 to 1950, is born in Bohola, County Mayo on July 11, 1890.

O’Dwyer studies at St. Nathys College, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. He emigrates to the United States in 1910, after abandoning studies for the priesthood. He sails to New York City as a steerage passenger on board the liner Philadelphia and is inspected at Ellis Island on June 27, 1910. He first works as a laborer, then as a New York City police officer, while studying law at night at Fordham University Law School. He receives his degree in 1923 and then builds a successful practice before serving as a Kings County (Brooklyn) Court judge. He wins election as the Kings County District Attorney in November 1939 and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate known as Murder, Inc. makes him a national celebrity.

After losing the mayoral election to Fiorello La Guardia in 1941, O’Dwyer joins the United States Army for World War II, achieving the rank of brigadier general as a member of the Allied Commission for Italy and executive director of the War Refugee Board, for which he receives the Legion of Merit. During that time, he is on leave from his elected position as district attorney and replaced by his chief assistant, Thomas Cradock Hughes, and is re-elected in November 1943.

In 1945, O’Dwyer receives the support of Tammany Hall leader Edward V. Loughlin, wins the Democratic nomination, and then easily wins the mayoral election. He establishes the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Park Commissioner Robert Moses to the post, works to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presides over the first billion-dollar New York City budget, creates a traffic department and raises the subway fare from five cents to ten cents. In 1948, he receives The Hundred Year Association of New York‘s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.” In 1948, he receives the epithets “Whirling Willie” and “Flip-Flop Willie” from U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio of the opposition American Labor Party while the latter is campaigning for Henry A. Wallace.

Shortly after his re-election to the mayoralty in 1949, O’Dwyer is confronted with a police corruption scandal uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. O’Dwyer resigns from office on August 31, 1950. Upon his resignation, he is given a ticker tape parade up Broadway‘s Canyon of Heroes in the borough of Manhattan. President Harry Truman appoints him U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He returns to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures and the accusations follow him for the rest of his life. He resigns as ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remains in Mexico until 1960.

O’Dwyer visits Israel for 34 days in 1951 on behalf of his Jewish constituents. Along with New York’s Jewish community, he helps organize the first Israel Day Parade.

William O’Dwyer dies in New York City on November 24, 1964, in Beth Israel Hospital, aged 74, from heart failure. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, Grave 889-A-RH.


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Birth of Robert Nugent, Civil War and Indian Wars Officer

robert-nugentBrigadier General Robert Nugent, Irish-born American United States Army officer during the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars, is born on June 27, 1824 in Kilkeel, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Nugent serves with the Irish Brigade‘s 69th Infantry Regiment, from its days as a National Guard unit and into its incorporation into the Union Army at the start of the war. He is one of its senior officers at the First Battle of Bull Run.

When the unit is originally mustered out of service, the 90-day enlistment terms having expired, Nugent accepts a commission as a captain in the regular army. He is immediately assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment whose commanding officer, Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman, personally requests. Taking a leave of absence to return to New York, he assists Thomas Francis Meagher in organizing the Irish Brigade. The newly reformed 69th Infantry Regiment is the first unit assigned to the Irish Brigade and, with Nugent as its colonel, he leads the “Fighting 69th” at the Battles of Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill.

Nugent is shot in the stomach at the Battle of Fredericksburg and is eventually forced to resign his command. He is appointed acting assistant provost marshal for the southern district of New York, which includes New York City and Long Island, by the United States War Department. An Irishman and Democrat, his appointment is thought to assure the Irish American population that conscription efforts would be carried out fairly. The Irish American, a popular Irish language newspaper, writes that the selection is a “wise and deservedly popular one.” He encounters resistance from city officials wanting to remain uninvolved, however by mid-June reports to his superior officer and provost marshal general Colonel James Barnet Fry that conscription efforts are “nearing completion without serious incident.”

Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Nugent attempts to keep the draft selections quiet and in isolated parts of the city. In Manhattan however, lotteries are placed in the heart of Irish tenement and shanty neighborhoods where the draft is most opposed.

In the ensuing New York City draft riots, Nugent takes command of troops and attempts to defend the city against the rioters. Despite issuing the cancellation of the draft, the riots continue for almost a week. His home on West 86th Street is looted and burned by the rioters during that time, his wife and children barely escaping from their home. Upon breaking into his house, furniture is destroyed and paintings of Nugent and Meagher are slashed, although a painting of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran is reportedly left untouched.

On October 28, Nugent is relieved of his post and succeeded by General William Hays. Returning to active duty, he assumes command of the Irish Brigade in November 1864, shortly after the death of Corcoran. He is present at the battle of Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign. As its last commanding officer, he and the Irish Brigade also march in the victory parade held in Washington, D.C. following Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Nugent is brevetted Brigadier General for distinguished leadership of the 69th Regiment on March 13, 1865. The veterans of the Irish Brigade are honorably discharged and mustered out three months later. Nugent remains in the regular U.S. Army for the next twenty years, a formidable “Indian fighter” during the American Indian Wars with the 13th and 24th Infantry Regiments. In 1879, he retires at the rank of major and resides in New York where he is involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, the War Veterans’ Association of the 7th Regiment and an honorary member of The Old Guard.

Nugent becomes ill in his old age, complications arising from his wounds suffered at Fredericksburg, and remains bedridden for two months before his death at his McDonough Street home in Brooklyn on June 20, 1901. In accordance with his last wishes, he is buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery.


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Birth of Boxer Jack McAuliffe

jack-mcauliffeJack McAuliffe, Irish American boxer who fights mostly out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is born in Cork, County Cork on March 24, 1866. Nicknamed “The Napoleon of the Ring,” he is one of only fifteen world boxing champions to retire without a loss. He is the World Lightweight champion from 1886 to 1893. He is posthumously inducted into The Ring magazine Hall of Fame in 1954 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.

McAuliffe’s parents are Cornelius McAuliffe and Jane Bailey, who are living at 5 Christ Church Lane, Cork, at the time of Jack’s birth. He emigrates to the United States in 1871, where he spends his early years in Bangor, Maine.

McAuliffe makes his first appearance as an amateur boxer in 1883. He turns professional soon after, fighting Jem Carney 78 rounds to a draw at Revere Beach, Massachusetts. He fights Billy Dacey for the lightweight championship and a $5,000 purse in 1888, knocking him out in eleven rounds. He is known as a strong two-handed fighter with “cat-like” reflexes.

McAuliffe is married twice, both times to stage actresses. His first wife is Katie Hart, who plays in farce comedies. After her death, he marries Catherine Rowe in 1894, whose stage name is Pearl Inman, of the song and dance team The Inman Sisters. Between marriages he dates a third actress, Sadie McDonald. McAuliffe and Rowe move back to Bangor, Maine, in 1894, where he undertakes preliminary training for a fight later that year at the Seaside Athletic Club on Coney Island.

McAuliffe retires in 1897. According to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he has 36 professional fights. He finishes his career with 30 victories with 22 by knockout, five draws and one no decision.

Jack McAuliffe dies on November 5, 1937, at his home on Austin Street in Forest Hills, Queens.


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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.