seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.


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Birth of Máire de Paor, Historian & Archaeologist

maire-de-paorMáire de Paor, Irish historian and archaeologist who also works as a researcher and presenter for national broadcaster RTÉ, is born on May 6, 1925 in Buncrana, County Donegal.

de Paor is born Máire MacDermott to Eamonn MacDermott and Delia MacVeigh. She is educated in the Convent of Mercy in Buncrana before going to University College Dublin, where she completes a master’s degree and a doctorate on early Christian archaeology and metalwork.

de Paor works in the Department of Archeology at UCD from 1946 to 1958. She marries Liam de Paor in 1946 and they have a daughter and four boys. They collaborate on a number of publications. She publishes her papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Archaeologia, Seanchas Armagh and Comhar. Her husband also works at the university and, as a result of policies about married women, she is forced to leave. Initially she lectures in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, France and the United Kingdom. She works as lecturer in archaeology at Trinity College, Dublin. The de Paors spend a year in Nepal on a UNESCO project in 1963.

de Paor works as a freelance researcher for Radio Telefís Éireann until she is given a full time position in the 1970s.

de Paor is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1960 and is a member of the Arts Council from 1973. She becomes a member of Conradh na Gaeilge from 1962. From 1968 she is working with Cumann Merriman, the Irish cultural organisation named after Brian Merriman, working with the group as a director of the schools and spends four years as chairperson. In 1992 she is appointed to the board of Amharclann de hÍde.

Máire de Paor dies on December 6, 1994 at the age of 69.

University College Dublin has created the Dr. Máire de Paor Award for best PhD thesis. Her biographer identifies her as a committed republican, socialist and feminist.


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Birth of Robert Tressell, Irish Writer

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, is born in Dublin on April 17, 1870. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at County Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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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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Birth of John Lonergan, American Civil War Captain

john-lonerganJohn Lonergan, American Civil War captain and Medal of Honor winner, is born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary on April 7, 1839. Hailed as a hero in the American Civil War, he wins the award for his bravery during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lonergan immigrates to the United States with his family in 1848. It is said that the Lonergans were on the run from the Great Famine, as well as British oppression. Settling in Vermont, he works alongside his father as a cooper.

In 1862, Lonergan forms a company of fellow Vermont Irishmen to volunteer to fight the Confederates. He does so with the mindset to gain more military skill to help the cause of Irish freedom. He is also leader of the Vermont branch of the Fenian Brotherhood, a forerunner to the Irish Republican Army.

Lonergan serves for the Union Army in two stages, 1862-1863 and 1865. Serving as the captain of Company A, 13th Vermont Infantry, his efforts on July 2, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg earn him the Medal of Honor, which cites him for “Gallantry in the recapture of four guns and the capture of two additional guns from the enemy; also the capture of a number of prisoners.”

Following his services in the Civil War, Lonergan helps organize a pair of failed raids into Canada from staging areas in St. Albans. The Fenians’ quixotic aim is to pressure Britain, which rules Canada as a colony, to surrender control of Ireland.

Lonergan dies in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on August 6, 1902. In 2013, a memorial is erected to him in Burlington, Vermont.


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Birth of Badminton Player Frank Devlin

frank_devlinJoseph Francis Devlin, Irish badminton player known as Frank Devlin, is born in Dublin on January 19, 1900.

Raised in Dublin, Devlin first develops his badminton skills in the family garden during his childhood with his friend Gordon “Curly” Mack. The two childhood friends graduate from the garden to win an impressive six titles together in men’s doubles at the All England Open Badminton Championships.

Devlin is the second most successful player ever in the All England Open Badminton Championships with 18 titles between 1925 and 1931, including three triple championships in 1926, 1927 and 1929. He dominates the 1920s with six titles at the Irish Open and two titles at the Scottish Open.

Despite being Irish Devlin is part of the English team that tours Canada in 1925 to promote the sport on behalf of the Canadian Badminton Association which had recently been formed in 1921. He is also part of a second English touring team that visits Canada during 1930. A match is held at the Granite Club in Toronto which England wins 7-2.

When his playing career comes to an end in 1931, Devlin moves to North America to become the first known full-time badminton coach. He first sets foot in Winnipeg and then in Baltimore. After spending time coaching in North America, he returns to Ireland and teaches his skills to the next generations until he is well into his eighties.

Adding to his success with the racket, Devlin earns a solid reputation as a writer. Over four decades, he authors many books on the technical and tactical aspects of badminton. He is a strong believer in sound technique and becomes the first known player to use the overhead backhand clear.

Frank Devlin dies on October 27, 1988 at 88 years of age.

Two of Devlin’s daughters, Judy and Susan, become badminton legends in their own right, and win six All England women’s doubles titles together as partners. Judy, who also wins ten All England titles in women’s singles, is inducted with her late father into the Badminton Hall of Fame in 1997.

(Pictured (L to R): Sir George Thomas of England and Frank Devlin of Ireland)


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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.