seamus dubhghaill

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


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Founding of the American Committee for Relief in Ireland

american-committee-for-relief-in-irelandThe American Committee for Relief in Ireland (ACRI) is founded through the initiative of Dr. William J. Maloney and others on December 16, 1920, with the intention of giving financial assistance to civilians in Ireland who have been injured or suffer severe financial hardship due to the ongoing Irish War of Independence.

The Committee is only one of several U.S. based philanthropic organisations that emerge following World War I with a view to influencing the post-war settlement from their perspective of social justice, economic development and long term stability in Europe. Some of them concentrate their efforts on events in Ireland, and while activists of Irish ethnicity are well represented, membership is far from confined to Americans of Irish heritage. Apart from the ACRI, bodies such as the American Commission on Irish Independence and the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland raise money and attempt to influence U.S. foreign policy in a manner sympathetic to the goal of Irish secession from the United Kingdom.

This period of Irish political radicalism coincides with a Red Scare in the United States. Jim Larkin, an Irish trade unionist, who has been closely associated with James Connolly in Ireland and with the Wobblies in the U.S., is serving a five-year sentence in Sing Sing prison for promoting his socialist agenda. While his political views differ fundamentally from most of the Sinn Féin leadership, Irish republicanism is seen by many of the American establishment as based on a questionable ideology. During the Irish War of Independence, the activities of Irish-American fund-raising organisations are viewed with suspicion and kept under close scrutiny by the intelligence services including J. Edgar Hoover, head of the General Intelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. U.S. policy towards Irish concerns, initially hostile or at best indifferent, become somewhat less so following the 1920 U.S. presidential election and the landslide victory of Warren G. Harding over James M. Cox.

Following the burning of parts of Cork on December 11, 1920 by elements of the British security forces known as the Black and Tans, approaches are made by the city’s Lord Mayor, Donal O’Callaghan, to the American Red Cross for humanitarian assistance. The society, having taken advice from President Woodrow Wilson, the British embassy, the Foreign Office and the British Red Cross, decline at this time to act on his appeal. Numerous organisations and committees across the United States, operating independently in raising humanitarian aid money for Ireland realise that their funds will not be channelled through the U.S. Committee of the Red Cross and so another distribution channel is needed.

Five days after the inferno at Cork, a widely publicised meeting takes place at the Banker’s Club in New York City. It is organised by William Maloney with the intention of establishing a single nationwide organisation. It will have as its goal, explicitly and solely for the purpose of humanitarian relief, the raising and distribution in Ireland of $10 million. The body which soon emerges styles itself “The American Committee for Relief in Ireland.” One of its founding members, Levi Hollingsworth Wood, approaches a Dublin-based businessman and fellow Quaker, James Douglas, requesting his assistance in the local distribution of the funds on a non-partisan basis. In Ireland, Douglas speaks with Laurence O’Neill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who in turn contacts senior members of Sinn Féin to inform them of the wishes of the American Committee. These meetings culminate in the establishment of the Irish White Cross, for the purpose of local distribution of the Committee’s funds.

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The Cork Opera House Fire

cork-opera-house-fire-1955The Cork Opera House is destroyed by fire on December 12, 1955. It is originally built in 1855, and is built on a template that the architect had used for the exhibition buildings at the Irish Industrial Exhibition. Since then it survives the burning of much of Cork by British forces in 1920.

“The final curtain has fallen. The Cork Opera House is no more. A hundred years of stage history has come to an end. Never had the last moments of any drama, played on this stage, such an audience as last night’s farewell one. In heavy rain, a vast crowd stood silently as flames enveloped a proud landmark in our city. They watched it from the short first burst of fire on its roof until the building crumbled before their eyes.”

So reads the main news in The Cork Examiner on Tuesday, December 13, 1955, after the disastrous fire tore at the heartstrings of the people of Cork, leaving the city without a major theatre for the first time in 250 years. It is the boast of the Opera House that its tradition is continuous. When fighting in the South was at its bitterest, even when most of Cork was burned down, the Opera House kept running, only closing for pantomime rehearsals and in Holy Week. It is during the rehearsals for the forthcoming Christmas pantomime that the fatal fire starts. Fortunately, all people are evacuated, but the building built entirely from wood does not stand a chance from the merciless fire. What begins as an electrical fault blazes into an inferno within minutes. Soon the skyline of the city is lit up as the fire does its worst.

Ten years later, on February 23, 1963, the tender of Messrs. O’Shea, South Mall is accepted for the rebuilding of the Opera House. A month later the work begins and the foundation stone is laid by Lord Mayor Seán Casey on June 21, 1963. The citizens watch the building construction with keen interest as the new building gradually takes shape. Finally the day arrives for the casting aside of hoardings and scaffoldings.

Immediately controversy begins regarding the much disputed North-Wall. Unfavorable comment and criticism is levelled at the lack of architectural or artistic embellishment on the exterior of the new building and the square, squat tower on top of the roof designed to ease set changing. This is a very natural reaction as the old Opera House had a very special place in the hearts of Corkonians of every generation during its existence. Most of the criticism is uninformed, for few are aware of the difficulties, financially and technically, that the project incurred. Despite the criticism about the exterior appearance, everyone who has an opportunity to inspect the interior of the theatre can find no fault. There is nothing but praise for the design, the decor, the layout of the seating accommodation and, above all, the intimate atmosphere which has been a traditional part of the venerable old building, and which is now faithfully preserved in the new.


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Irish Ferries Protest

irish-ferries-protestNearly 150,000 people take to the streets on December 9, 2005, as the Irish Ferries protest mushrooms into the largest public demonstration the country has seen for two decades.

The national day of protest is called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is demanding Government action to combat exploitation of migrant workers and the displacement of jobs. There are rallies in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Athlone and Rosslare.

An Garda Síochána estimate that 40,000 people take part in the march in Dublin, although organisers claim the figure is far higher. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party and John Gormley of the Green Party participate in the march in the capital. Staff on board the MS Isle of Inismore in Pembroke and the four engineers holed up in the ships control room say they are overwhelmed by the level of support shown by marchers in the rallies.

Bus and rail services are disrupted during the protest but return to normal for evening rush hour.

The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) strongly criticises the National Day of Protest. In a statement, ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding says the protest is undermining the industrial relations process in this country and has very little to do with the Irish Ferries dispute and is in fact an attempt by the unions to influence negotiations in advance of any new national pay agreement.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Services Industrial Professional Technical Union (SIPTU) President Jack O’Connor says the rallies give workers the chance to take a stand.

Director General of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) Turlough O’Sullivan says there is nothing to be gained from disrupting business and the general public. He adds that whatever one’s views on the Irish Ferries dispute, nothing can justify calling a national work stoppage when discussions are already underway in a bid to resolve the row.


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Execution of Irish Republican Liam Mellows

liam-mellowsLiam Mellows, Irish republican and Sinn Féin politician, is executed by firing squad by Free State forces on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of Teachta Dála (TD) Seán Hales.

Mellows is born at Hartshead Military Barracks, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, to William Joseph Mellows, a British Army non-commissioned officer, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, County Wexford. His family moves to 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, in February 1895 when Sergeant Mellows is transferred there, however Liam remains in Wexford with his grandfather Patrick Jordan due to ill health. He attends the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin, but ultimately refuses a military career much to his father’s disappointment, instead working as a clerk in several Dublin firms, including the Junior Army & Navy Stores on D’Olier Street .

A nationalist from an early age, Mellows approaches Thomas Clarke, who recruits him to Fianna Éireann, an organisation of young republicans.

Mellows is introduced to socialism when he meets James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. He is active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is a founder member of the Irish Volunteers , being brought onto its Organising Committee to strengthen the Fianna representation. He is arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act. Eventually escaping from Reading Gaol, he returns to Ireland to command the “Western Division” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mellows leads roughly 700 Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary
stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge in County Galway and takes over the town of Athenry. However, his men are very badly armed and supplied and they disperse after a week, when British troops and the cruiser HMS Gloucester are sent west to attack them.

After this insurrection fails, Mellows escapes to the United States, where he is arrested and detained without trial in The Tombs in Lower Manhattan, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in World War I. After his release in 1918, he works with John Devoy and helps to organise Éamon de Valera’s fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920.

Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.

Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.

Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”


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Death of Poet & Revolutionary Denny Lane

Denny Lane, author, poet and member of the revolutionary Young Ireland party, dies in Cork, County Cork, on November 29, 1895.

Lane is born in Riverstown, near Glanmire in County Cork, on December 4, 1818. Although a Catholic, Lane graduates from the mainly Protestant Trinity College, Dublin, where he joins the College Historical Society, becomes a friend of Charles Gavan Duffy and Thomas Davis. He is called to the bar from Inner Temple, but soon becomes involved in the political activities surrounding Daniel O’Connell, joining the Repeal Association.

The young men become increasingly impatient with the slow pace of O’Connell’s repeal campaign and soon begin to contemplate armed insurrection. Davis, along with John Dillon and Charles Duffy, found The Nation, the newspaper of the movement in 1842. In its pages the idea of total separation from England is soon openly suggested, and Lane becomes one of the paper’s contributors. He contributes articles and later poems to the paper, his best known poems being Carrig Dhoun and Kate of Araglen which are written under the pen name “Domhnall na Glanna” or “Domhnall Gleannach.”

Finally, in 1846, the issue of physical force split the Young Irelanders from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Lane supports the split. Davis, Lane, and small group of their friends soon become known by the name which has survived to this day: the Young Ireland Party.

Lane and his college classmate Michael Joseph Barry are the most prominent Young Irelanders in Cork, and are interned in Cork City Gaol after the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. Lane spends four months in prison. After his release, he returns to Cork and does not appear to have much political involvement thereafter.

Lane takes over his father’s distillery in Cork and later starts several industrial businesses near the city, with mixed success. He takes an interest in technology and industrial innovation. He is on the boards of the Macroom Railway Company and the Blackrock and Passage Railway Company, and also involved in Cork’s School of Art, School of Music, and Literary & Scientific and Historical & Archaeological societies. He stands for Parliament in the 1876 Cork City by-election, but the Home Rule vote is split with John Daly, so that unionist William Goulding is elected.

(Pictured: An 1889 bust of Denny Lane sculpted by John Lawlor)


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.


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Birth of Comedian & Actor Niall Tóibín

Niall Tóibín, Irish comedian and actor, is born into an Irish speaking family in Cork, County Cork, on November 21, 1929. He is the sixth of seven children born to Siobhán (née Ní Shúileabháin) and Seán Tóibín.

Tóibín’s father is born in Passage West, County Cork, and his parents come from Waterford and West Cork. His father is a teacher in the School of Commerce in Cork city and the author of two books, Blátha an Bhóithrín and Troscán na mBánta, on wayside and meadowland flowers, both written in the Irish language. His mother comes from Beaufort, County Kerry.

Tóibín is born on the south side of Cork city in Friars’ Walk. He is raised with Irish and uses the language in his professional career, notably in the film Poitín. As a child he sings in the cathedral choir and the Opera House in Cork. In his teens he joins a drama society attached to the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League. He is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers at the North Monastery after which he leaves Cork in January 1947 for a job in the Civil Service in Dublin.

Tóibín starts acting in the 1950s and spends fourteen years with the Radio Éireann Players. From Ryan’s Daughter and Bracken in the 1970s, to The Ballroom of Romance, The Irish R.M., Brideshead Revisited (TV serial) and Caught in a Free State in the 1980s, and Far and Away, Ballykissangel and Veronica Guerin in the 1990s and 2000s, Toibin’s entertainment career in television, film and theatre spans over four decades.

Tóibín plays Dr. Paul O’Callaghan in the first series of the Irish TV programme The Clinic. He also plays Judge Ballaugh, alongside Cate Blanchett, in Jerry Bruckheimer‘s film Veronica Guerin. He also acts for the radio, such as his guest appearance in the BBC Radio 4 series Baldi.

In 1973, Tóibín wins a Jacob’s Award for his performance in the RTÉ comedy series, If The Cap Fits. He receives an Honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from University College Cork (UCC) on June 4, 2010 and is honoured with the Irish Film and Television Academy‘s (IFTA) Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony at the Irish Film Institute on November 3, 2011.