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


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Birth of Robert Gibbings, Wood Engraver & Sculptor

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Robert John Gibbings, Irish artist and author most noted for his work as a wood engraver and sculptor, and for his books on travel and natural history, is born into a middle-class family in Cork, County Cork on March 23, 1889. Along with Noel Rooke he is one of the founder members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and is a major influence in the revival of wood engraving in the twentieth century.

Gibbings’ father, the Reverend Edward Gibbings, is a Church of Ireland minister. His mother, Caroline, is the daughter of Robert Day, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and president of The Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He grows up in the town of Kinsale where his father is the rector of St. Multose Church.

Gibbings studies medicine for three years at University College Cork before deciding to persuade his parents to allow him to take up art. He studies under the painter Harry Scully in Cork and later at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Central School of Art and Design.

During World War I Gibbings serves in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and is wounded at Gallipoli before eventually being invalided out of the army in 1918. He then resumes his studies in London.

Gibbings is very much at the centre of developments in wood engraving. He is a founder member and leading light of the Society of Wood Engravers, which he sets up with Noel Rooke in 1920. In 1922 he contributes two wood engravings, “Clear Waters” and “Hamrun,” to Contemporary English Woodcuts, an anthology of wood engravings produced by Thomas Balston, a director at Gerald Duckworth & Company and an enthusiast for the new style of wood engravings. In 1923 he receives a commission for a set of wood engravings for The Lives of Gallant Ladies for the Golden Cockerel Press, his most important commission to date at 100 guineas.

Gibbings is working on the wood engravings The Lives of Gallant Ladies when Hal Taylor, the owner of the press, becomes very ill with tuberculosis and has to put it up for sale. He seeks a loan from a friend, Hubert Pike, a director of Bentley Motors, to buy the press. He takes over in February 1924 and owns and runs the press until 1933.

Gibbings illustrates numerous books on travel and natural history, including Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and writes a series of bestselling river books, notably Sweet Thames Run Softly. He does a huge amount to popularise the subject of natural history, travelling extensively through Polynesia, Bermuda and the Red Sea to gather inspiration for his work.

Gibbings is the first man to draw underwater, the illustrations filling his Penguin classic Blue Angels and Whales. He is one of the first natural history presenters on the BBC.

In September 1955 Gibbings and his wife, Patience, purchase Footbridge Cottage, a tiny beehive of a cottage in Gibbings’s words, in Long Wittenham on the banks of the River Thames. Life there suits him, and he has a period of tranquility that he had not known previously. They live there until he dies of cancer in an Oxford hospital on January 19, 1958. He is buried in the churchyard at Long Wittenham. The grave is marked by a simple headstone featuring his device of a crossed quill and graver, carved by Michael Black, a young sculptor who is a friend of Gibbings.


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Irish Protests of the War in Iraq

iraq-war-protestOn the evening of March 20, 2003, up to 2,000 people take part in a protest outside the United States Embassy at Ballsbridge in Dublin to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq. This is one of numerous protests held in response to the Irish Anti-War Movement‘s call on Irish citizens to mount mass protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The group says thousands of workers, students and school pupils had taken part in stoppages and walk-outs throughout the day.

Richard Boyd Barrett, the chairman of the IAWM, says, “The complicity of the Irish government in this murderous war through providing facilities for the U.S. military at Shannon Airport is an absolute disgrace. “This war has little support among ordinary people and has provoked a wave of anger and revulsion. We call on the people of Ireland to come out in their thousands at 6:00 PM tonight to their town centre demonstrations to show this carnage is not being mounted in our names.”

Earlier in the day, several hundred protesters gather outside Dáil Éireann to protest the Irish Government‘s decision to continue allowing U.S. military aircraft use Shannon Airport. The Dáil is holding a six-hour debate on a Government motion which, among other topics, contains a clause permitting U.S. forces continued use of Irish airspace and facilities.

A 10-minute work stoppage at noon is observed by thousands of people, the IAWM claims. They say hundreds of students in University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Limerick and the Waterford Institute of Technology walked out, as did secondary school students in several schools in Dublin. Up to 1,000 students from second level colleges in Derry take part in an hour-long city centre protest. Around 50 health workers at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, staff at the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street and Collins Barracks and workers at the Motor Taxation office in Cork also stop work.

The NGO Peace Alliance says it is “extremely disappointed” at the Government’s refusal to condemn the attack on Iraq. “We call upon thousands of Irish people to reject this shameful position by thronging the streets of Dublin and other cities and towns next Saturday” said the alliance’s co-ordinator, Brendan Butler.

SIPTU‘s National Executive Council also interrupts their monthly meeting. “This war is not only unnecessary but illegitimate in the context of international law”, says Joe O’Flynn, SIPTU General Secretary.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions organises peace vigils on March 21 at the Spire of Dublin and other locations in various town and cities. Weekend anti-war protests take place in Dublin, Cork, Derry, Belfast, Galway, Sligo and Waterford.

(From: “Thousands protest against war at US Embassy” by Kilian Doyle, The Irish Times, March 20, 2003)


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Murder of George Clancy, Mayor of Limerick

george-clancyGeorge Clancy, Irish nationalist politician and Mayor of Limerick, is shot in his home by Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliaries and dies on March 7, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Clancy is born at Grange, County Limerick in 1881 to a family with a strong republican tradition. He is educated at Crescent College, Limerick, and thereafter at the Catholic University in St. Stephen’s Green, now University College, Dublin. Among his friends at the university are James Joyce, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney. He helps form a branch of the Gaelic League at college and persuades his friends, including Joyce, to take lessons in the Irish language. He plays hurling and is a good friend of Michael Cusack. With Arthur Griffin he joins the Celtic Literary Society. It is said that he is the model for the character of Michael Davin in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Clancy graduates in 1904 and finds a position teaching the Irish language at Clongowes Wood College and is active in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Due to ill health he has to return to his home at Grange. In 1908 he comes to Limerick to teach Irish. In 1913 he joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1915 he marries Máire Killeen, a teacher. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned in Cork, but is released before he comes to trial following a hunger strike.

Clancy helps in Éamon de Valera‘s election campaign in East Clare. He nearly dies of Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic but recovers and, in January 1921, he is elected Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick.

On the night of March 6, 1921 three Auxiliaries come to Clancy’s house and one of them shoots him, injuring him fatally. His wife is also injured in the attack. The previous Mayor, Michael O’Callaghan, is also murdered on the same night by the same group.

Suspicion immediately falls upon members of the Black and Tans, but a British inquiry into the murder, like most such inquiries through the years, absolve Crown forces of any blame. One of Clancy’s killers is later said to be George Nathan who dies in the Spanish Civil War in July 1937.


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Birth of Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean

Tom Crean

Thomas “Tom” Crean, Irish seaman and Antarctic explorer, is born on February 25, 1877 in the farming area of Gurtuchrane near the village of Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.

Crean leaves the family farm to enlist in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. In 1901, while serving on Ringarooma in New Zealand, he volunteers to join Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s 1901–04 Discovery Expedition to Antarctica, thus beginning his exploring career.

He is a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Captain Scott’s 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition. This sees the race to reach the South Pole lost to Roald Amundsen and ends in the deaths of Scott and his polar party. During this expedition, Crean’s 35 statute miles solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans leads to him receiving the Albert Medal for Lifesaving.

After his Terra Nova experience, Crean’s third and final Antarctic venture is as second officer on Ernest Shackleton‘s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, on Endurance. After Endurance becomes beset in the pack ice and sinks, Crean and the ship’s company spend months drifting on the ice before a journey in boats to Elephant Island. He is a member of the crew which makes an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia, to seek aid for the stranded party.

Crean’s contributions to these expeditions seals his reputation as a polar explorer and earns him a total of three Polar medals. After the Endurance expedition, he returns to the navy. When his naval career ends in 1920 he moves back to County Kerry. In his home town of Annascaul, Crean and his wife Ellen live quietly and unobtrusively and open a pub called The South Pole Inn.

In 1938 Crean becomes ill with a ruptured appendix. He is taken to the nearest hospital in Tralee, but as no surgeon is available to operate, he is transferred to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where his appendix is removed. Because of the delay of the operation an infection develops and after a week in the hospital he dies on July 27, 1938, shortly after his sixty-first birthday. He is buried in his family’s tomb at the cemetery in Ballynacourty.

Crean’s name is commemorated in at least two places – 8,630 foot Mount Crean in Victoria Land and the Crean Glacier on South Georgia. A one-man play, Tom Crean – Antarctic Explorer, has been widely performed since 2001 by its author Aidan Dooley, including a special showing at the South Pole Inn, Annascaul, in October 2001. In July 2003, a bronze statue of Crean is unveiled across from his pub in Annascaul. It depicts him leaning against a crate whilst holding a pair of hiking poles in one hand and two of his beloved sled dog pups in the other.


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Death of Eileen Desmond, Labour Party Politician

eileen-desmondEileen Christine Desmond (née Harrington), Irish Labour Party politician who serves as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare from 1981 to 1982, dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. She serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1969, 1973 to 1981 and 1981 to 1987. She serves as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Munster constituency from 1979 to 1984. She is a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1969 to 1973.

Desmond is born in Kinsale, County Cork on December 29, 1932. She is educated locally at the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale, where she is one of only two girls in her class to sit the Leaving Certificate examination. Before entering politics she works as a civil servant with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She marries Dan Desmond in 1958.

Desmond is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election on March 10, 1965, due to the death of her husband who had been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 1948. Her victory in the Cork Mid constituency leads Taoiseach Seán Lemass to dissolve the 17th Dáil and call a general election. She is elected for the second time in a year, but loses her seat at the 1969 general election. However she is then elected to the 12th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, where she serves until her re-election to the 20th Dáil at the 1973 general election.

Desmond is elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European Parliament election for the Munster constituency. However her time in Europe is short-lived, as she returns to domestic politics when she is offered a position as Minister and the chance to impact upon national legislation. At the 1981 general election she switches her constituency to Cork South-Central. A Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition comes to power and she is appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare.

Desmond’s cabinet appointment is historic, as she is only the second woman to be a member of cabinet since the foundation of the state in 1922, and the first in any Fine Gael or Labour Party cabinet. Countess Markievicz had held the cabinet post of Minister for Labour in the revolutionary First Dáil in 1919, but only one woman had held cabinet office after the foundation of the state, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Fianna Fáil who was appointed as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Desmond retires from full-time politics at the 1987 general election for health reasons. She dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. Her funeral Mass takes place at Our Lady and St. John’s Church, Carrigaline with burial following in Crosshaven Cemetery.


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Birth of Francis Sylvester Mahony, Humorist & Journalist

francis-sylvester-mahonyFrancis Sylvester Mahony, Irish humorist and journalist also known by the pen name Father Prout, is born on December 31, 1804 in Cork, County Cork.

Mahony is born to Martin Mahony and Mary Reynolds. He is educated at the Jesuit Clongowes Wood College, in County Kildare, and later in the Abbey of Saint-Acheul, a similar school in Amiens, France and then at Rue de Sèvres, Paris, and later in Rome. He begins teaching at the Jesuit school of Clongowes as master of rhetoric, but is soon after expelled. He then goes to London and becomes a leading contributor to Fraser’s Magazine, under the signature of “Father Prout” (the original Father Prout, whom Mahony knew in his youth, born in 1757, was parish priest of Watergrasshill, County Cork). At one point he is director of this magazine.

Mahony is witty and learned in many languages. One form which his humour takes is the professed discovery of the originals in Latin, Greek, or mediaeval French of popular modern poems and songs. Many of these jeux d’esprit are collected as Reliques of Father Prout. He pretends that these poems had been found in Fr. Prout’s trunk after his death. He wittily describes himself as “an Irish potato seasoned with Attic salt.” Later he acts as foreign correspondent to various newspapers, and during the last eight years of his life his articles form a main attraction of The Globe.

In his native Cork Mahoney is best remembered for his poem “The Bells of Shandon” and his pen-name is synonymous with the city and the Church of St. Anne, Shandon.

Mahony spends the last two years of his life in a monastery and dies on May 18, 1866 in Paris reconciled to the Church.

The Reliques of Father Prout originally appear in two volumes in 1836 with illustrations by Maclise. They are reissued in Henry George Bohn‘s Bohn’s Libraries in 1860. Another volume, Final Reliques, is edited by Douglas Jerrold and published in 1876. The Works of Father Prout, edited by Charles Kent, is published in 1881. Facts and Figures from Italy (1847) is made from his Rome letters to London’s The Daily News.


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Death of Pat Gillen, Irish D-Day Survivor

pat-gillenFormer Commando Pat Gillen, one of the last surviving Irish D-Day veterans, dies at the age of 89 at his home in Cork, County Cork on December 27, 2014. He is among the first wave of troops to land on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

A rifleman in the 6 Commando unit charged with securing the strategically important Pegasus Bridge near Caen, Gillen is never injured despite making a six-mile trek through marshland from the beach to Caen and spending weeks in the trenches at Saulnier. More than half his brigade falls in the face of vicious fire from German forces.

On his return to Ireland, Gillen applies for a job as a male stenographer with Ford Motor Company in Cork, where the company’s first plant outside the United States employs thousands of workers in the 1930s. Having studied Pitman shorthand, typing and bookkeeping at school, he is called for an interview that includes a shorthand test in which the only word “I could just not get right was carburetor.”

Not alone does Gillen land the job with the U.S. car and tractor firm, he also meets Rita, the daughter of his B&B landlady, whom he marries two years later. Blessed with a lively sense of humour, he has a natural flair for getting on with people and is assigned to Ford’s public relations division.

Gillen’s ease when dealing with journalists is an attribute that serves him well during an 11-year spell as Ford’s press officer, especially in the turbulent times leading up to its decision to close the Cork manufacturing plant in 1984, when he also retires after 38 years with the company.

A witty, unassuming man, Gillen’s abiding interests are gardening, his twelve grandchildren, the FCA, and letter-writing to wartime comrades, a practice he keeps up until weeks before his death.

On December 8, 2014, just over two weeks before his death and surrounded by his family in an emotional ceremony at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Gillen is presented with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, in recognition of his courage and gallantry in the liberation of France. It is the highest French honour.

With characteristic generosity, Gillen dedicates the medal to fellow countrymen, including two cousins who fought in but did not survive World War II. “This award is as much theirs as mine,” he said. “By the grace of God, I survived to be here today while many of my friends sleep in the fields of France.”

At the time of his passing Gillen is surrounded by his family. Predeceased by Rita, he is survived by their four children, Robin, Mary, Patricia, and Gerard, his sister, Mary, and brothers Michael (“Chick”), Liam and Bobby. His sister Angela Scully also predeceases him.

(From: D-Day veteran who became Ford’s PR man in Cork, The Irish Times, January 17, 2015)