seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.


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The American Civil War Begins

The American Civil War begins on April 12, 1861. There is perhaps no other ethnic group so closely identified with the Civil War years and the immediate aftermath of the war as Irish Americans.

Of those Irish who come over much later than the founding generations, fully 150,000 of them join the Union army. Unfortunately, statistics for the Confederacy are sketchy at best. Still, one has but to listen to the Southern accent and listen to the sorts of tunes Southern soldiers love to sing to realize that a great deal of the South is settled by Irish immigrants. But because the white population of the Confederate states is more native-born than immigrant during the Civil War years, there does not seem as much of a drive in the Southern army to recognize heritage in the names and uniforms of regiments as there is in the Union forces.

In the Union army there is the fabled Irish Brigade, likely the best known of any brigade organization, organized in 1861 and led by the flamboyant General Thomas Francis Meagher. They go into battle with an emerald green flag with a large golden harp in its center, celebrating their heritage even in the midst of death. The Irish Brigade makes an unusual reputation for dash and gallantry. It belongs to the First Division of the Second Corps, and is numbered as the Second Brigade. The Irish Brigade loses over 4,000 men in killed and wounded during the war, more men than ever belong to the brigade at any given time. The Irish Brigade is commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thomas A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

In the North, centers of Irish settlement are Boston and New York, both of which have sizeable Irish neighborhoods. There are major immigration periods in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. The numbers steadily increase until, according to the 1860 census, well over one and a half million Americans claimed to have been born in Ireland. The majority of these live in the North. There are periods of severe economic difficulties both before and after the war when the immigrant Irish are singled out for the distrust and hatred of their fellow Americans. “No Irish Need Apply” is a frequently seen placard sign above the doors of factories, shops, warehouses, and farms.

The Irish are chiefly distrusted because they are Catholic, and there is much opposition in the United States to the Church of Rome. The frustration this prejudice causes leads indirectly to the boil-over of tempers in July 1863, when the first official draft is held. A mob of mostly immigrant laborers gather at the site of the draft lottery, and as names are called and those not wealthy enough to purchase a substitute are required to join up, the mob’s temper flares.

The situation escalates into full-scale rioting. For three days, cities like New York and Boston are caught up in a rampage of looting, burning, and destruction. Many of the rioters are frustrated Irish laborers who cannot get jobs, and their targets are draft officials, as well as free blacks living in the North, who seem able to get jobs that the Irish are denied. It takes the return of armed troops from the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg to bring the cities back to peace and quiet.

Such events do little to help the image of the Irish in America, until many years after the war. Despite their wartime heroics, many Irish veterans come home to find the same ugly bias they faced before going off to fight for the Union. Many of them choose to go into the post war army.

Still others follow Thomas Meagher into Canada, where they join up in an attempt to free Canada from British domination. Many simply choose to remain in the Eastern cities, hoping matters will improve as time goes by. Eventually things do get better for the Irish, but it is many long years before ugly anti-Irish prejudice fades.


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The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish-Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is assassinated by Fenian elements on April 7, 1868, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee, born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth, 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 7 April 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.

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 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 Patrick Michael Clancy

patrick-michael-clancyPatrick Michael Clancy, Irish folk singer best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, is born on March 7, 1922, at Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. In addition to singing and storytelling, Clancy plays the harmonica with the group, which is widely credited with popularizing Irish traditional music in the United States and revitalizing it in Ireland. He also starts and runs the folk music label Tradition Records, which records many of the key figures of the American folk music revival.

Clancy is one of eleven children and the eldest of four boys born to Johanna McGrath and Bob Clancy. During World War II he serves as a flight engineer in the Royal Air Force in India. After his demobilization, Clancy works as a baker in London. In 1947 he emigrates to Toronto, Canada with his brother Tom Clancy. The following year, the two brothers move to Cleveland, Ohio to stay with relatives. Later, they attempt to move to California, but their car breaks down and they relocate to the New York City area instead.

After moving to Greenwich Village in 1951, both Patrick and Tom devote themselves primarily to careers in the theater. In addition to appearing in various Off-Broadway productions and television shows, they produce and star in plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village and at a playhouse in Martha’s Vineyard. After losing money on some unsuccessful plays, the brothers begin singing concerts of folk songs after their evening acting jobs are over. They soon dub these concerts “Midnight Specials” and the “Swapping Song Fair.” Patrick and Tom are often joined by other prominent folk singers of the day, including Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie.

In 1956 their younger brother, Liam Clancy, immigrates to New York, where he teams up with Tommy Makem, whom he had met while collecting folk songs in Ireland. The two begin singing together at Gerde’s Folk City, a club in Greenwich Village. Patrick and Tom sing with them on occasion, usually in informal folk “sing-songs” in the Village. Around the same time, Patrick founds Tradition Records with folk-song collector and heiress Diane Hamilton, and in 1956 the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem release their first album, The Rising of the Moon, with only Patrick’s harmonica as musical accompaniment. However, the Clancys and Makem do not become a permanent singing group until 1959.

In the late 1950s, Clancy with his brothers and Makem begin to take singing more seriously as a permanent career, and soon they record their second album, Come Fill Your Glass with Us. This album proves to be more successful than their debut album, and they begin receiving job offers as singers at important nightclubs, including the Gate of Horn in Chicago and the Blue Angel in New York City. The group garners nationwide fame in the United States after an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which leads to a contract with Columbia Records in 1961. Over the course of the 1960s, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem record approximately two albums a year for Columbia. By 1964, Billboard magazine reports that the group was outselling Elvis Presley in Ireland.

The group performs together on stage, recordings, and television to great acclaim in the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia until Tommy Makem leaves to pursue a solo career in 1969. They continue performing first with Bobby Clancy and then with Louis Killen until Liam leaves in 1976 also to pursue a solo career. In 1977 after a short hiatus, the group reforms with Patrick, Tom, and Bobby Clancy and their nephew Robbie O’Connell. Liam returns in 1990 after the death of Tom Clancy.

In 1968, after two decades in North America, Clancy returns to live in Carrick-on-Suir, where he purchases a dairy farm and breeds exotic cattle. When not on tour or working on his farm, he spends much of his time fishing, reading, and doing crossword puzzles. In the late 1990s, he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor is successfully removed, but he is also stricken with terminal lung cancer around the same time. He continues performing until his failing health prevents him from doing so any longer.

Patrick Clancy dies at home of lung cancer on November 11, 1998 at the age of 76. He is buried, wearing his trademark white cap, in the tiny village of Faugheen, near Carrick-on-Suir.


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Birth of Writer & Journalist Pádraic Ó Conaire

padraic-o-conairePádraic Ó Conaire, Irish writer and journalist whose production is primarily in the Irish language, is born in Galway on February 20, 1882. During his lifetime he writes 26 books, 473 stories, 237 essays, and 6 plays. His acclaimed novel Deoraíocht has been described by Angela Bourke as “the earliest example of modernist fiction in Irish.”

Ó Conaire’s father is a publican, who owns two premises in the town of Galway. His mother is Kate McDonagh. He is orphaned by the age of eleven. He spends a period living with his uncle in Garaffin, Ros Muc, Connemara. The area is in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) and Ó Conaire learns to speak Irish fluently.

He emigrates to London in 1899 where he gets a job with the Board of Education and becomes involved in the work of the Gaelic League. A pioneer in the Gaelic revival in the last century, Ó Conaire and Patrick Pearse are regarded as being the two most important Irish language short story writers during the first decades of the 20th century.

Ó Conaire is married to Molly Ní Mhanais, with whom he has four children: Eileen (born February 22, 1905), Patrick (born November 3, 1906), Kathleen (born February 24, 1909, and Mary Josephine (born July 28, 1911 but dies of diphtheria in 1922).

Ó Conaire returns to Ireland in 1914, leaving his family in London. Living mostly in Galway, he earns a meagre living through writing, teaching at Gaeltacht summer schools, and as an occasional organiser for the Gaelic League.

Ó Conaire dies at the age of 46 while on a visit to Dublin in 1928 after complaining of internal pains while at the head office of the Gaelic League. His fellow poet Frederick Robert Higgins writes a celebrated Lament for Pádraic Ó Conaire.

Pádraic Ó Conaire has family still living to this day in England as well as in Galway and Canada. The Ó Conaire surname is still strong in the Ros Muc area.


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Death of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records several 78 RPM records in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP record, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title. Her notable voice gives her the nickname the “Queen of Connemara.”

Murphy is born on February 16, 1902, in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo, to a well-off family. Her father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. Murphy’s father encourages her interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Murphy is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin, and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. While at UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Murphy sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel, and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941, Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Murphy becomes one of those who assist Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in saving the lives of 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy.

In 1946, Murphy is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while living in Ottawa, Murphy makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. Murphy and Kiernan purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C.. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Murphy’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin, until her death. During her lifetime she records upwards of 100 songs.


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Death of John O’Mahony, Founder of the Fenian Brotherhood

john-omahonyJohn Francis O’Mahony, Gaelic scholar and the founding member of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, sister organisation to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, dies in New York City on February 7, 1877.

O’Mahony is born in 1816 in Kilbeheny, County Limerick. His father and uncle were members of the Society of United Irishmen, and took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. On the death of an elder brother, he inherits a property which yields £300 per annum. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Irish. He becomes an accomplished Gaelic scholar, and later teaches Greek and Latin, and contributes articles to Irish and French journals. He leaves Trinity without getting a degree.

In 1843, O’Mahony joins Daniel O’Connell‘s movement for the Repeal of the Acts of Union 1800, but quickly becomes dissatisfied with the lack of progress and joins the Young Ireland movement which William Smith O’Brien leads and takes part in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. His participation in the rebellion obligates him to leave Ireland, and he settles for a time in Paris, where he lives in great poverty. In 1854, he joins John Mitchel in New York City, and takes part in the Emigrant Aid Association, the Emmet Monument Association, and other Irish organisations.

In 1857, O’Mahony publishes History of Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating, D. D., translated from the Original Gaelic, and Copiously Annotated (New York, 1857). O’Mahony’s notes are copied from John O’Donovan‘s translations of Annals of the Four Masters, and it is on this ground that Hodges & Smith procures an injunction against the sale of the book in the United Kingdom. The mental strain to which O’Mahony is subjected in the preparation of this work, which brings him no pecuniary gain, affects his reasoning and he is removed by his friends for a short time to a lunatic asylum.

In 1860, O’Mahony organises the Fenian Brotherhood, also known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The object of the association is to secure the freedom of Ireland. The name is probably derived from O’Mahony’s Gaelic studies, the Fenians having been a military body in pagan Ireland, celebrated in the songs of Ossian. The organisation of the new society is completed at conventions that are held in Chicago in 1864 and in Cincinnati in January 1865.

At the time of the Cincinnati convention, O’Mahony holds the rank of colonel of the 69th Regiment of New York State Militia, recruited mainly from the ranks of the Brotherhood, which has also furnished a large proportion of Thomas Francis Meagher‘s Irish Brigade, Michael Corcoran‘s legion, and Irish regiments engaged in the American Civil War. The rapid growth in membership of the Fenian Brotherhood renders it impossible for O’Mahony to retain the colonelcy of the 69th regiment, which he has held for some time. He resigns in order to give all his attention to the spread of Fenianism.

The close of the civil war in the spring of 1865 gives a great impetus to the Fenians, owing to the number of Irish American soldiers that are disbanded and anxious to see service elsewhere. Money pours into the Fenian exchequer. Many differences occur between O’Mahony and James Stephens and the Central Council relative to the policy to be pursued for the attainment of their object, but O’Mahony remains president of the organisation for several years. He does not take any part personally in the attempted insurrection in Ireland or in the raids on Canada, although his advice counts for much in these enterprises.

He devotes the last years of his life to literary pursuits, but suffers from ill health, and he has a hard struggle to secure the bare means for subsistence. However visionary may have been his objectives, he is honest, and although thousands have passed through his hands, he is often at a loss for a dollar. When his poverty is discovered, he declines to receive assistance in any form. He dies in New York City on February 7, 1877 and soon after his death his remains are returned to Ireland and interred with the honors of a public funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.