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


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Birth of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, educator, philanthropist, and the founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, is born in Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny on June 1, 1762.

Rice is born into a Catholic family and is one of nine children. It comes as a surprise that a Catholic family can be prosperous in these days but they have a lease of a good-sized farm and are industrious people. In view of his future work in education it is fortunate that he receives a very good education himself, first at a local hedge school and then at a private secondary school in Kilkenny.

Rice is apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford at the age of 17. Waterford is then the second largest port in Ireland with an expanding trade with England, France and Spain and has very special trading links across the Atlantic with Newfoundland. His uncle is involved in providing food and services for the crews and passengers of the ships trading in and out of the port of Waterford. His uncle becomes a very prosperous businessman and his business expands even more after it is handed over to his nephew. His great wealth is later to be used in transforming the lives of countless young boys.

At the age of 25 Rice marries Mary Elliot and is left a widower two years later when she dies after falling from a horse. He is left with a handicapped daughter, Mary. He calls in his step-sister Joan Murphy to help him care for his daughter so he can develop the business he inherited from his uncle.

In 1802, having properly cared for his daughter, Rice begins a night school for the uneducated boys from the quays of Waterford. His deep desire is to found a religious order of men who will educate these poor boys so that they can live with dignity and high self-esteem. But his volunteer assistants cannot stick with it. Neither can the paid teachers he later employs. Just when his spirits are lowest, and he looks to be a failure to all his business colleagues, two men from his native Callan join him not only to educate these unruly boys but also to join him in his plan to found a religious order. To do such a thing is contrary to the law. Nevertheless Rice and his growing number of companions proceed. In 1808 seven of them take religious vows under Bishop Power of Waterford. They are called Presentation Brothers. This is the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded in a Church by a layman. Rice has in the meantime built a substantial school out of his own money, but it is already proving too small for the many boys who flock to him for an education.

Gradually an extraordinary transformation takes place in the “quay kids” of Waterford. Rice and his Brothers educate them, clothe and feed them. Other Bishops in Ireland supply him with men whom he prepares for religious life and teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland. However, the groups in separate dioceses are not under his control but that of the Bishop. This creates problems when Brothers need to be transferred. Rice seeks and ultimately obtains approval from Pope Pius VII for his Brothers to be made into a pontifical congregation with Rice as Superior General. He is then able to move Brothers to wherever they are most needed. From this time on they are called Christian Brothers. By 1825 there are 30 Christian Brothers working in 12 towns and cities and educating 5,500 boys, free of charge. Many of these boys are also being clothed and fed.

Rice’s life is steeped in a spirituality that is strong and practical. He is forever caring for the poor in the wretched circumstances of their lives, for he believes there is a great need “to give to the poor in handfuls.” Many people, both men and women, from many cultures, young and old are helped and given hope and purpose and a new footing in life. He and his Brothers even card for the inmates of the jails of Waterford. He is privileged to comfort and accompany many a condemned man to the gallows. The poor never forget his love for them and see him as “a man raised up by God.”

Rice endures many and severe trials and in 1829 it seems the Christian Brothers are going to be suppressed by the law of the land. They face extinction but this does not happen. An even worse trial comes to him personally when some of his own Brothers try to undermine his work. Fortunately they are unsuccessful. He gave his Brothers as their motto a text from the Book of Job that means so much to him in his life: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”

In 1838, at the age of 76, Rice retires from leadership of the congregation and returns to Waterford. After living in a near-comatose state for more than two years, he dies at Mount Sion, Waterford on August 29, 1844, where his remains lie in a casket to this day.

Rice is declared to be Blessed Edmund Rice by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 6, 1996. His Feast Day in the Catholic Church is 5 May.

(From: “Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice,” Diocese of Waterford & Lismore, http://www.waterfordlismore.ie)


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Death of Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond

fitzgerald-coat-of-armsMaurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond, Irish nobleman in the Peerage of Ireland, Captain of Desmond Castle in Kinsale, so-called ruler of Munster, and for a short time Lord Justice of Ireland, dies at Dublin Castle on January 25, 1356.

FitzGerald is the second son of Thomas FitzMaurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron Desmond by his wife Margaret. His father dies in 1296 when he is still a child. He succeeds his elder brother Thomas FitzGerald, 3rd Baron Desmond as 4th Baron Desmond in 1307, and also inherits great wealth and large estates.

By 1326 FitzGerald’s influence is such that there are rumours of a conspiracy to make him King of Ireland. Modern historians tend to dismiss the story, on the ground that the alleged conspirators were other magnates who were more interested in increasing their own power than aggrandising FitzGerald.

FitzGerald is created Earl of Desmond by Letters Patent dated at Gloucester, England, August 27, 1329, by which patent also the county palatine of Kerry is confirmed to him and his heirs male, to hold of the Crown by the service of one knight’s fee. This is part of a Crown policy of attempting to win the support of the magnates by conferring earldoms on them.

In January 1330 FitzGerald is summoned by Sir John Darcy, Lord Justice of Ireland, to fight armed Irish rebels, with a promise of the King’s pay. It is FitzGerald who introduces the practice of Coigne and Livery, the quartering of troops on the inhabitants of the district they are sent to protect.

Accepting the King’s proposal, in addition to dealing with Munster and Leinster, FitzGerald routs the O’Nolans and O’Murroughs and burns their lands in County Wicklow and forces them to give hostages. He recovers the castle of Ley from the O’Dempsies, and has a liberate of £100 sterling dated at Drogheda August 24, 1335, in return for the expense he has incurred in bringing his men-at-arms, hobelars, and foot-soldiers, from various parts of Munster to Drogheda, and there, with Lord Justice Darcy, disperses the King’s enemies.

In 1331 there are further rumours of an attempt to make him King. Although there seems to be no foundation for them, the Crown takes them seriously enough to imprison FitzGerald for several months. He is released when a number of fellow nobles stand surety for his good behaviour.

In 1339 FitzGerald is engaged against Irish rebels in County Kerry where it is said he slays 1,400 men, and takes Nicholas, Lord of Kerry, prisoner, keeping him confined until he dies as punishment for siding with the rebels against the Crown.

The same year FitzGerald is present in the parliament held in Dublin. He is summoned by Writ dated at Westminster July 10, 1344, with Maurice, Earl of Kildare, and others, to attend the King at Portsmouth “on the octaves of the nativity of the Virgin Mary,” with twenty men-at-arms and fifty hobelars, at his own expense, to assist in the war against Philip V of France.

FitzGerald, who has long been acting “with a certain disregard for the niceties of the law” now decides on open rebellion. In 1345 he presides at an assembly of Anglo-Irish magnates at Callan, County Kilkenny, ignores a summons to attend the Irish Parliament and attacks Nenagh. He is a formidable opponent, and for the next two years his defeat is the main preoccupation of the Crown. He surrenders on a promise that his life will be spared. He is imprisoned and his lands forfeited. He is allowed to go under guard to England to answer the charges against him.

By no means for the last time, the Crown evidently decides that it can not govern Ireland without the magnates’ support. In 1348 FitzGerald is released, and pardoned in 1349. His loyalty does not seem to have been in question during the last years of his life.

In July 1355 FitzGerald is appointed Lord Justice of Ireland for life, dying, however, the following January in Dublin Castle. He is interred in the Church of the Friars-Preachers in Tralee.


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Laying of the Cornerstone for the White House

The cornerstone is laid for the White House in the newly designated capital city of Washington, D.C., on October 13, 1792. Earlier in the year, work begins on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish American architect James Hoban, whose design is influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James GibbsA Book of Architecture.

Hoban is an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan, County Kilkenny. He works there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he is given an “advanced student” place in the Dublin Society‘s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studies under Thomas Ivory. He excels in his studies and receives the prestigious Duke of Leinster‘s medal from the Dublin Society for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs” in 1780. Later, Hoban finds a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban emigrates to the United States, and establishes himself as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1785.

Hoban is in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designs numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse. President George Washington admires Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour and summons the architect to Philadelphia, the temporary national capital, in June 1792.

In July 1792, Hoban is named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across, much like the Charleston courthouse. Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amends this to a 2-story facade, eleven bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion is faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.

In 1800, President John Adams becomes the first president to reside in the executive mansion, which soon becomes known as the “White House” because its white-gray Virginia freestone contrasts strikingly with the red brick of nearby buildings.