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


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Birth of George Salmon, Mathematician & Theologian

Rev. Prof. George Salmon, distinguished and influential Irish mathematician and Anglican theologian, is born in Dublin on September 25, 1819. After working in algebraic geometry for two decades, he devotes the last forty years of his life to theology. His entire career is spent at Trinity College Dublin.

Salmon, the son of Michael Salmon and Helen Weekes, spends his boyhood in Cork, where his father is a linen merchant. There he attends Hamblin and Porter’s Grammar School before attending Trinity College in 1833, graduating with First Class Honours in mathematics in 1839. In 1841 he attains a paid fellowship and teaching position in mathematics at Trinity. In 1845 Salmon is additionally appointed to a position in theology at the university, after having been ordained a deacon in 1844 and a priest in the Church of Ireland in 1845.

In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon is in regular and frequent communication with Arthur Cayley and J. J. Sylvester. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians develop a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period he publishes about 36 papers in journals.

In 1844 Salmon marries Frances Anne Salvador, daughter of Rev. J. L. Salvador of Staunton-upon-Wye in Herefordshire, with whom he has six children, of which only two survive him.

In 1848 Salmon publishes an undergraduate textbook entitled A Treatise on Conic Sections. This text remains in print for over fifty years, going through five updated editions in English, and is translated into German, French and Italian. From 1858 to 1867 he is the Donegall Lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity.

In 1859 Salmon publishes the book Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra. This is for a while simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and goes through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and is translated into German and French. He also publishes two other mathematics texts, A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves (1852) and A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions (1862).

In 1858 Salmon is presented with the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy. In June 1863 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society followed in 1868 by the award of their Royal Medal. In 1889 he receives the Copley Medal of the society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by then he has long since lost his interest in mathematics and science.

From the early 1860s onward Salmon is primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he is appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, at which point he resigns from his position in the mathematics department. In 1871 he accepts an additional post of chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Salmon is Provost of Trinty College from 1888 until his death in 1904. The highlight of his career is likely when in 1892 he presides over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism leads him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University.

Salmon dies at the Provost’s House on January 22, 1904 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. An avid reader throughout his life, his obituary refers to him as “specially devoted to the novels of Jane Austen.”

Salmon’s theorem [ru] is named in honor of George Salmon.


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Birth of Isaac Butt, Barrister & Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Isaac_Butt.jpgIsaac Butt, barrister and politician, is born in Glenfin, County Donegal on September 6, 1813. If not the originator of the term Home Rule, he is the first to make it an effective political slogan. He is the founder (1870) and first chief of the Home Government Association and president (1873–77) of the Home Rule League of Great Britain, but he is superseded in 1878 as head of the Home Rule movement by the younger and more forceful Charles Stewart Parnell.

Butt is the son of a Church of Ireland rector and is descended from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, through the Ramsays. He receives his secondary school education at The Royal School in Raphoe, County Donegal, and at Midleton College in County Cork, before going to Trinity College Dublin at the age of fifteen, where he is elected a Scholar. While there he co-founds the Dublin University Magazine and edits it for four years. For much of his life he is a member of the Irish Conservative Party. He becomes Whately Chair of Political Economy at Trinity in 1836 and holds that position until 1841.

Butt is called to the Irish bar in 1838 and the English bar in 1859. Intermittently from 1852 he represents, successively, one English and two Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. In 1848 he undertakes the defense of the Young Ireland leaders, who are charged with high treason for their abortive insurrection that year. From 1865 to 1869 he is the principal defense counsel for the imprisoned leaders of the Fenians (Irish Republican, or Revolutionary, Brotherhood).

Despite his legal work for the Fenians, Butt, who is basically a conservative, fears the consequences of a successful Fenian revolt. Disillusioned, however, by the British government’s failure to relieve the Irish Great Famine of the late 1840s, he becomes convinced that a native parliament is required for Irish land reform and other needs. In May 1870 he calls for an Irish Parliament subordinate to the imperial Parliament at Westminster, and later that year he forms the Home Government Association. From 1871 he quickens the Irish nationalist agitation in the House of Commons but gradually loses his leadership, partly because he disapproves of Parnell’s tactics of obstructing routine parliamentary business.

Butt amasses debts and pursues romances. It is said that at meetings he is occasionally heckled by women with whom he had fathered children. He is also involved in a financial scandal when it is revealed that he had taken money from several Indian princes to represent their interests in parliament.

Isaac Butt dies on May 5, 1879 in Clonskeagh in Dublin. His remains are brought by train to Stranorlar, County Donegal, where he is buried in a corner of the Church of Ireland cemetery beneath a tree by which he used to sit and dream as a boy. His grave has been restored and the memorial now includes a wreath.

Despite his chaotic lifestyle and political limitations, Butt is capable of inspiring deep personal loyalty. Some of his friends, such as John Butler Yeats and the future Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, retain a lasting hostility towards Parnell for his role in Butt’s downfall.

In May 2010 the Church of Ireland parishes of Stranorlar, Meenglass and Kilteevogue instigate an annual memorial Service and Lecture in Butt’s honour, inviting members of the professions of law, politics and journalism to reflect aspects of his life. Speakers have included Dr. Joe Mulholland, Senator David Norris, Dr. Chris McGimpsey and Prof. Brian Walker.

(Pictured: Isaac Butt, portrait by John Butler Yeats)


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Birth of James Henry, Scholar & Poet

james-henryJames Henry, Irish classical scholar and poet, is born in Dublin on December 13, 1798.

Henry is the son of a woolen draper, Robert Henry, and his wife Kathleen Elder. He is educated by Unitarian schoolmasters and then at Trinity College, Dublin. At age 11 he falls in love with the poetry of Virgil and gets into the habit of always carrying a copy of the Aeneid in his left breast-pocket.

Henry graduates from Trinity with the gold medal for Classics. He then turns to medicine and practises as a physician in Dublin until 1845. In spite of his unconventionality and unorthodox views on religion and his own profession, he is very successful. He marries Anne Jane Patton, from Donegal, and has three daughters, only one of whom, Katherine, born in 1830, survives infancy.

His accession to a large fortune in 1845 enables him to devote himself entirely to the absorbing occupation of his life – the study of Virgil. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, he visits all those parts of Europe where he is likely to find rare editions or manuscripts of the poet. When his wife dies in Tyrol he continues his work with his daughter, who becomes quite a Virgil expert in her own right, and crosses the Alps seventeen times. After the death of his daughter in 1872 he returns to Dublin and continues his research at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a commentator on Virgil, Henry will always deserve to be remembered, notwithstanding the occasional eccentricity of his notes and remarks. The first fruits of his researches are published at Dresden in 1853 under the quaint title Notes of a Twelve Years Voyage of Discovery in the first six Books of the Eneis. These are embodied, with alterations and additions, in the Aeneidea, or Critical, Exegetical and Aesthetical Remarks on the Aeneis (1873-1892), of which only the notes on the first book are published during Henry’s lifetime. As a textual critic Henry is exceedingly conservative. His notes, written in a racy and interesting style, are especially valuable for their wealth of illustration and references to the less-known classical authors.

Henry is also the author of five collections of verse plus two long narrative poems describing his travels, and various pamphlets of a satirical nature. At its best his poetry has something of the flavour of Robert Browning and Arthur Hugh Clough while at its worst it resembles the doggerel of William McGonagall. His five volumes of verse are all published at his own expense and receive no critical attention either during or after his lifetime.

James Henry dies at Dalkey, County Dublin, on July 14, 1876.


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Death of Novelist & Playwright Kate O’Brien

Kathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, dies in Canterbury, England, on August 13, 1974.

O’Brien is born in Limerick, County Limerick on December 3, 1897. Following the death of her mother when she is five years old, she becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and she then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–1923, O’Brien works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, she works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak. O’Brien is best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, she feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Several of her books include positive gay/lesbian characters. Her determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in queer literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 40s in the country.

Kate O’Brien lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.


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Death of Statesman Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke, statesman born in Dublin, dies on July 9, 1797 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England. He is also known as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after moving to London, served as a member of parliament (MP) for many years in the House of Commons with the Whig Party.

Burke receives his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare. In 1744, he enters Trinity College, Dublin, a Protestant establishment, which up until 1793, did not permit Catholics to take degrees. He graduates from Trinity in 1748. Burke’s father wants him to read Law, and with this in mind he goes to London in 1750, where he enters the Middle Temple, before soon giving up legal study to travel in Continental Europe. After eschewing the Law, he pursues a livelihood through writing.

Burke criticizes British treatment of the American colonies, including through its taxation policies. He also supports the American Revolution, believing both that it could not affect British or European stability and would be an innovative experiment in political development since the Americas are so far away from Europe and thus could have little impact on England.

Burke is remembered for his support for Catholic emancipation, the impeachment of Warren Hastings from the East India Company, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, he claims that the revolution is destroying the fabric of good society, and condemned the persecution of the Catholic Church that results from it. This leads to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig Party, which he dubs the “Old Whigs,” as opposed to the pro–French Revolution “New Whigs” led by Charles James Fox.

For more than a year prior to his death, Burke realizes that his “stomach” is “irrecoverably ruind.” Edmund Burke dies in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on July 9, 1797 and is buried there alongside his son and brother. His wife, Mary Jane Nugent, survives him by nearly fifteen years.

In the nineteenth century Burke is praised by both conservatives and liberals. Subsequently, in the twentieth century, he becomes widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.


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Birth of Kate O’Brien, Novelist and Playwright

kate-obrienKathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, is born in Limerick City on December 3, 1897. She becomes best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Following the death of her mother when she is five, O’Brien becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–23, she works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, O’Brien works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak.

Many of her books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues.

Throughout her life, O’Brien feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it is believed that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. With several of her books including positive gay/lesbian characters, O’Brien’s determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in gay literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 1940s in the country. She lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.

The Glucksman Library at the University of Limerick holds an important collection of O’Brien’s writings. The Limerick Literary Festival in honour of Kate O’Brien, formerly the Kate O’Brien Weekend, takes place in Limerick every year, attracting academic and non-academic audiences.