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


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Execution of Thomas Russell, United Irishmen Co-founder

thomas-russellThomas Paliser Russell, co-founder and leader of the Society of United Irishmen, is executed for his part in Robert Emmet‘s rebellion on October 21, 1803.

Born in Dromahane, County Cork to an Anglican family, Russell joins the British army in 1783 and serves in India. He returns to Ireland in 1786 and commences studies in science, philosophy and politics. In July 1790 he meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery in the Irish House of Commons and they become firm friends.

In 1790 Russell resumes his military career as a junior officer in the 64th Regiment of Foot and is posted to Belfast. The French Revolution in 1789 is warmly greeted in Belfast as are its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. With his keen mind and radical ideas, Russell soon becomes a confidante of Henry Joy McCracken, James Hope, Samuel Neilson and others who are to play a prominent role in the United Irish movement. With them he develops ideas of parliamentary reform, to include the bulk of the people, and Catholic emancipation.

Russell leaves the army in July 1791 and attends a convention of the Whig Club in Belfast to mark Bastille Day. The convention is addressed by William Drennan, who proposes a brotherhood promoting separation from England and co-operation with the increasingly radical Cisalpine Club in the pursuit of political and social reforms. However, Russell notes the lack of trust between Dissenters and Catholics which is due to fears that Catholic radicalism can be bought off by religious concessions. Informing Wolfe Tone of his observations, within weeks leads to Wolfe Tone’s publication of Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland to address these suspicions. The pamphlet is extremely well received and provides the impetus for the founding of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast on October 18, 1791.

Pressure from Dublin Castle later forces the United Irish movement to become a clandestine organisation as the would-be revolutionaries seek to continue their slow progress towards challenging the occupying British.

In 1795 Russell, Andrew Henderson, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson lead a band of United Irishmen to the top of Cavehill overlooking the town of Belfast where they swear an oath “never to desist in our effort until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence” prior to Wolfe Tone’s exile to the United States. The event is noted in Dublin Castle although there is no immediate move to disband or arrest the members of the United Irishmen.

In 1796, Russell publishes an ambitious and far-sighted document, Letter to the People of Ireland, which lays out his vision of social and economic reform for the Irish nation. In addition to his stance on religious freedom, he makes clear his anti-slavery views in the Northern Star on March 17, 1792.

Russell takes an active part in organising the Society of United Irishmen becoming the United Irish commander in County Down. However the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1793 leads to an ongoing campaign against the United Irishmen and in 1796 he is arrested and imprisoned as a “state prisoner” in Dublin. In March 1799 he and the other state prisoners are transferred to Fort George in Scotland, an extensive fortress some miles north of Inverness built in the wake of the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46. He is released on condition of exile to Hamburg in June 1802 following a brief cessation in the war with France.

Not content to sit things out in Hamburg, Russell soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who is planning another insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. He agrees to return to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the north is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and displays little appetite for a renewed outbreak. Finally, finding some support in the vicinity of Loughinisland, he prepares to take to the field on July 23, 1803, the date set by Emmett.

However the plan is badly thought out and quickly collapses, forcing Russell to flee to Dublin before a shot is fired in anger. He manages to hide for a number of weeks but Dublin is a hard place in which to hide in the days following the failure of Emmett’s rebellion as the shocked authorities have launched a massive campaign of raids and arrests in an effort to finally eradicate the United Irishmen.

Thomas Russell is promptly arrested and sent to Downpatrick Gaol where he is executed by hanging then beheaded on October 21, 1803.

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Alleged Marriage of Catherine Coll & Juan Vivion de Valera

catherine-and-eamon-de-valeraAllegedly, Catherine Coll and Juan Vivion de Valera are married in St. Patrick’s Church, Greenville, New Jersey on September 19, 1881. They are the parents of Irish statesman and politician Éamon de Valera, who serves as the 3rd President of Ireland and Taoiseach.

Catherine Coll is born on December 21, 1856 in Bruree, County Limerick and emigrates to New York City in 1879. She first takes a job with a wealthy French family that is living in Manhattan. This is where she allegedly meets Juan Vivion de Valera (born 1854), a Spanish sculptor who comes to the home of her employers to give music lessons to the children.

It is alleged that Vivion de Valera, always in poor health, leaves his young family behind in 1885 and travels to Colorado, hoping that perhaps the healthier air will help him out only to die within a few months.

Though Éamon de Valera’s official biography (Longford/O’Neill, Hutchinson, London, 1970) states that his parents were married at St. Patrick’s Church on September 19, 1881, the parish records show no record of any Coll–de Valera wedding either at St. Patrick’s or any church, nor were any civil records found, in the vicinity during the period from 1875 to 1887. Also, initially de Valera is not registered in his father’s name.

However, not merely is there no record of the wedding. No record exists of the existence of a “Juan Vivion de Valera” anywhere in the United States: no birth certificate, no baptismal certificate (if he was a Catholic), no marriage certificate and no death certificate. While it is possible that he was born abroad and so either had a foreign birth certificate or was not registered, the absence of a death certificate for someone stated definitely in Éamon de Valera’s family history to have died in the United States has puzzled researchers. Some scholars have questioned whether Juan Vivion de Valera ever existed.

There has been a mischievous suggestion that he was related to the French painter Achille Devéria as Éamon de Valera “was known to be particularly fond of his works.” This claim is hardly likely given that Devéria was a painter of erotica, and de Valera nothing if not a prude. It should also be noted that Devéria died in 1857, at least 20 years before Éamon de Valera was born.

It has also been alleged by some that Catherine Coll invented Juan de Valera to give her son legitimacy.

(Pictured: Irish republican leader and founder of Fianna Fail, Éamon de Valera, with his mother Catherine Coll, April 01, 1927)


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Birth of Father Michael Joseph McGivney

michael-joseph-mcgivneyMichael Joseph McGivney, American Catholic priest, is born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney on August 12, 1852 in Waterbury, Connecticut. He founds the Knights of Columbus at a local parish to serve as a mutual aid and fraternal insurance organization, particularly for immigrants and their families. It develops through the 20th century as the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.

McGivney attends the local Waterbury district school but leaves at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of one of the area brass mills. In 1868, at the age of 16, he enters the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. He continues his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, near Niagara Falls, New York (1871–1872) and at the Jesuits‘ St. Mary’s College, in Montreal, Quebec. He has to leave the seminary, returning home, to help finish raising his siblings after the death of his father in June 1873. He later resumes his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Baltimore, Maryland. He is ordained a priest on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop James Gibbons at the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption.

From his own experience, McGivney recognizes the devastating effect on immigrant families of the untimely death of the father and wage earner. Many Catholics are still struggling to assimilate into the American economy. On March 29, 1882, while an assistant pastor at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, he founds the Knights of Columbus, with a small group of parishioners, as a mutual aid society to provide financial assistance in the event of the men’s death to their widows and orphans. The organization develops as a fraternal society. He is also known for his tireless work among his parishioners.

Father Michael Joseph McGivney dies from pneumonia at the age of 38 on August 14, 1890, the eve of the Assumption, in Thomaston, Connecticut.

The Knights of Columbus is among the first groups to recruit blood donors, with formal efforts dating to 1937 during the Great Depression. As of 2013, the order has more than 1.8 million member families and 15,000 councils. During the 2012 fraternal year, $167 million and 70 million man-hours are donated to charity by the order.

In 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford opens the cause for canonization, an investigation into McGivney’s life with a view towards formal recognition by the Church of his sainthood. Father Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, is the postulator of McGivney’s cause. He is also the director of the Fr. McGivney Guild, which now has 150,000 members supporting his cause.

The diocesan investigation is closed in 2000 and the case is passed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Vatican City. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approves a decree recognizing McGivney’s heroic virtue, thus declaring him “Venerable.” As of August 6, 2013, a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession is under investigation at the Vatican.


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.


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Birth of Novelist Shan Fadh Bullock

shan-fadh-bullockNovelist Shan Fadh Bullock is born on May 17, 1865 at Inisherk, County Fermanagh just outside the County Cavan border near Belturbet. His works include fourteen novels set in Ulster and he is admired by James Matthew Barrie and Thomas Hardy.

Bullock’s father, Thomas Bullock, is a strict man who has eleven children and drives several to emigration because of his stern demeanour. Thomas Bullock works on the Crom Castle estate which runs along the Cavan/Fermanagh border and has both Catholic and Protestant workers. Protestant workers have the prime jobs and are employed as craftsmen and supervisors while Catholics work in the outer area of the estate at unskilled jobs. Folk memories of the Battle of Newtownbutler in 1689 remain long in the memory in the area where up to 1,500 Jacobite troops are hacked down or drowned in Upper Lough Erne when pursued by the Williamite cavalry. Many of the Williamite army is drawn from the local Protestant population.

Bullock is educated at Crom estate primary school run by the Church of Ireland and Farra School near Bunbrosna, County Westmeath. He fails the entrance exams at the University of Dublin. He tries his hand at farming but finds he is not suited. He moves to London in 1883 and becomes a Civil Service clerk. He takes to journalism to supplement his salary and publishes his first book of stories, The Awkward squads, in 1893. His stories are centered on Irish Catholic and Protestant small farmers and labourers and their struggles and tensions. He marries Emma Mitchell in 1899 and they have a son and daughter.

Bullock is well respected in literary circles but his books are never successful enough for him to become a full time writer. He says that the English are not interested in Irish stories and that there is no reading public in Ireland. He dislikes Orange sectarianism and is ambivalent to Irish nationalism. His novel The Red Leaguers looks at sectarianism conflict and Robert Thorne examines the lives of London clerks which is a popular theme at the time. His last and best novel The Loughsiders is published in 1924 and is the story of a conniving smallholder based on William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Shan Bullock’s wife dies in 1922. He spends the final years of his life in Sutton, Surrey and dies there on February 27, 1935.


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Death of Brendan Duddy

brendan-duddyBrendan Duddy, a businessman from Derry, Northern Ireland who plays a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process, dies on May 12, 2017. A notable Catholic republican, who is a pacifist and firm believer in dialogue, he becomes known by Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) as “The Contact.” In his book Great Hatred; Little Room – Making Peace in Northern Ireland, Tony Blair‘s political advisor Jonathan Powell describes Duddy as the “key” which leads to discussions between republicans and MI6, and ultimately the Northern Ireland peace process.

Duddy runs a fish and chip shop in the late 1960s which is supplied with beef burgers from a supplier whose van driver is Martin McGuinness. He is first approached by MI6 officer Frank Steele in the early 1970s, but turns the approach down.

In light of the dissolution of Stormont in 1972, Duddy’s role as an intermediary starts in January 1972, when asked by friend and Derry’s Chief Police Office Frank Lagan to persuade the Official Irish Republican Army and the Provisional Irish Republican Army to remove their weapons from the Bogside. Both sides comply, but the Official IRA retains a few weapons for defensive purposes. After thirteen unarmed civil rights marchers are shot dead by British Parachute Regiment troops in what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, Duddy warns Lagan, “This is absolutely catastrophic. We’re going to have a war on our hands.”

In the aftermath of the events and repercussions of Bloody Sunday, MI6 agent Michael Oatley arrives in Belfast in 1973 seeking to understand the situation in Northern Ireland and hopefully create a communications channel between the IRA and the British Government. Duddy becomes the go-between for the communications and this leads to the IRA ceasefire of 1975/76.

Duddy and Oatley are the main channel of communications between the British Government and the IRA leadership during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. Duddy is codenamed “Soon” by the British. Over the period of July 4-6, 1981 they exchange many telephone calls, with Duddy urging the “utmost haste” on the part of the British because “the situation would be irreparably damaged if a hunger striker died.” He suggests steps which could be taken to give the Provisional IRA a way of ending the strike. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally amends the text of an offer which is conveyed to the IRA through Duddy, but the British consider the reply unsatisfactory and do not continue to negotiate through Duddy. Hunger striker Joe McDonnell dies the following day.

In November 1991, as his now friend Oatley is about to retire from MI6 service, Duddy calls Oatley to a diner in Derry. When dinner has finished, McGuinness enters the property. During the meeting, McGuinness and Oatley discuss options for moving the situation forward. A few weeks later, Duddy is pursued by a British businessman who wants to create jobs in Derry. In the first meeting, the businessman produces a letter from then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Brooke, introducing the “businessman” as Oatley’s MI6 successor. Duddy calls the MI6 agent “Fred,” and acting as the go-between they successfully negotiate a ceasefire. Talks between McGuinness and representatives of the British government are held secretly in his house.

After the end of The Troubles, Duddy serves as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and helps broker negotiations related to the marching season. He also testifies to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, with regards his role and actions of both sides.

On March 26, 2008, the BBC broadcasts a documentary entitled The Secret Peacemaker about Duddy, directed by Peter Norrey, and presented by Peter Taylor, a journalist who has known Duddy is “the link” for ten years.

In the spring of 2009, Duddy donates his private archives to the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, where they are now available to researchers. They chart his involvement in the peace process from 1972 to 1993, and his ongoing interest, and correspondence relating to Northern Ireland, until 2007. The Brendan Duddy Archive is opened in 2011.

At the age of 80, Brendan Duddy dies at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry, Northern Ireland on May 12, 2017.


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Death of John Redmond, Politician & Barrister

john-edward-redmondJohn Edward Redmond, Irish nationalist politician, barrister, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, dies on March 6, 1918 in London, England. He is best known as leader of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) from 1900 until his death. He is also leader of the paramilitary organisation the National Volunteers.

Redmond is born to an old prominent Catholic family in Kilrane, County Wexford on September 1, 1856. Several relatives are politicians. He takes over control of the minority IPP faction loyal to Charles Stewart Parnell after Parnell dies in 1891. He is a conciliatory politician who achieves the two main objectives of his political life: party unity and, in September 1914, the passing of the Irish Home Rule Act.

The Irish Home Rule Act grants limited self-government to Ireland, within the United Kingdom. However, implementation of Home Rule is suspended by the outbreak of the World War I. Redmond calls on the National Volunteers to join Irish regiments of the New British Army and support the British and Allied war effort to restore the “freedom of small nations” on the European continent, thereby to also ensure the implementation of Home Rule after a war that is expected to be of short duration. However, after the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish public opinion shifts in favour of militant republicanism and full Irish independence, resulting in his party losing its dominance in Irish politics.

In sharp contrast to Parnell, Redmond lacks charisma. He works well in small committees, but has little success in arousing large audiences. Parnell had always chosen the nominees to Parliament. Now they are selected by the local party organisations, giving Redmond numerous weak MPs over whom he has little control. He is an excellent representative of the old Ireland, but grows increasingly old-fashioned because he pays little attention to the new forces attracting younger Irishmen, such as Sinn Féin in politics, the Gaelic Athletic Association in sports, and the Gaelic League in cultural affairs.

Redmond never tries to understand the unionist forces emerging in Ulster. He is further weakened in 1914 by the formation of the Irish Volunteers by Sinn Féin members. His enthusiastic support for the British war effort alienates many Irish nationalists. His party has been increasingly hollowed out, and a major crisis, notably the Easter Rising, is enough to destroy it.

Redmond is increasingly eclipsed by ill-health after 1916. An operation in March 1918 to remove an intestinal obstruction appears to progress well initially, but he then suffers heart failure. He dies a few hours later at a London nursing home on March 6, 1918.

Condolences and expressions of sympathy are widely expressed. After a funeral service in Westminster Cathedral his remains are interred, as requested in a manner characteristic of the man, in the family vault at the old Knights Templars‘ chapel yard of Saint John’s Cemetery, Wexford, amongst his own people rather than in the traditional burial place for Irish statesmen and heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery. The small, neglected cemetery near the town centre is kept locked to the public. His vault, which has been in a dilapidated state, has been only partially restored by Wexford County Council.