seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Kelly, Irish Army Intelligence Officer

Capt. James Kelly, former Irish Army intelligence officer who is found not guilty of attempting to illegally import arms for the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the Arms Trial of 1970, is born on October 16, 1929 in Bailieborough, County Cavan.

Kelly is the eldest of ten children born into a staunchly Irish republican family. His father, also named James Kelly, had stood for Sinn Féin in local elections in 1918, topping the poll. An ancestor from the late 18th century, Robert Kelly, was a member of the Society of United Irishmen, and was supposedly a Officer Commanding of the United Irishmen in the East Cavan/South Monaghan area. Kelly joins the Irish Army in 1949. By 1960 he has been promoted to captain and appointed to the intelligence section at army headquarters.

Kelly is a central figure in the Arms Trial, having travelled to Hamburg to arrange the purchase of arms. It emerges later that Neil Blaney had ordered him to do so outside normal legal channels, but before the weapons arrive the Garda Special Detective Unit has heard of the plan and informs Taoiseach Jack Lynch, aborting the importation and resulting in criminal charges for the plotters. Although in his summation the judge says it is no defence for Kelly to say that he believed that the government had authorised the importation of arms, Kelly is acquitted.

Although he is acquitted, Kelly suffers financially because he had felt compelled to resign from the Army even before the prosecution is brought. He prints and publishes a personal memoir in paperback format called Orders for the Captain? in 1971.

Kelly never denies that he had been involved in extra-legal arms purchase talks, but contends that he had been ordered to do so by some ministers. A typical version of the events is found in a 1993 hostile biography of Charles Haughey, claiming: “As early as October 1969, to the certain knowledge of Charles Haughey, James Gibbons, the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and Army Intelligence, there were meetings with leading members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), when they were promised money and arms. The critical encounter took place in Bailieborough [sic], County Cavan, on Saturday, 4 October 1969. It had been arranged by Captain James Kelly, an army intelligence officer, and Cathal Goulding. Kelly, at that stage, was already the subject of several security reports to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, from the Special Branch, implicating Kelly with subversives and with promises of money and of arms.” Kelly never objects to such versions of the events of 1969.

Following the Arms Trial, Kelly joint-founds Aontacht Éireann, a political party directly born out of the scandal. He is elected vice-chairman of the party and stands in Dáil elections for them unsuccessfully on two occasions in 1973 and 1977 in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. Aontacht Éireann meets with little success at the polls and by 1980 he has joined Fianna Fáil, becoming a member of its national executive. Following the first applications of the 1987 Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, he resigns from the party in 1989 in opposition to the extradition of Provisional IRA prisoners to the United Kingdom. He also serves twice as President of the “1916-1921” Club.

Kelly is heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. In 1989 he publishes his own draft on how a peace process could proceed. His document called The Courage of the Brave is launched in Conway Mill, Belfast on August 24, 1989. Present on the platform party at the launch of the document are Fianna Fáil Councillor Macarten McCormack, Ernest Cowan, Chairman of Kentstown Fianna Fáil who had served with Captain Kelly on the Fianna Fáil National Executive, Robert C. Linnon, National President, Irish American Unity Conference, Kate Lavery, representing John J. Finucane, National President, American Irish Political Education Committee and Father Des Wilson of Belfast.

Kelly dies on July 16, 2003 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The epitaph on his grave is “Put not your trust in princes,” which is a quote from Niccolò Machiavelli.


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Death of Poet & Journalist John Boyle O’Reilly

john-boyle-o-reillyJohn Boyle O’Reilly, Irish American poet, journalist, author and activist, dies on August 10, 1890 in Hull, Massachusetts, due to accidental poisoning. His literature and work with civil rights have been celebrated throughout the years.

O’Reilly is born on June 28, 1844 at Dowth Castle to William David O’Reilly (1808–1871) and Eliza O’Reilly (née Boyle) (1815–1868) near Drogheda. His father is a headmaster. He is the third of six children. A year after his birth, the Great Famine begins, an event that shapes his life and beliefs. Most of his closest family manage to survive the famine, however many of his classmates lose their lives to the famine.

O’Reilly moves to his aunt’s residence in England as a teenager and becomes involved in journalism and shortly after becomes involved in the military. He leaves the military, however, in 1863 after becoming angry with the military’s treatment of the Irish, and returns to Ireland the same year.

In 1864 O’Reilly joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood under an assumed name and is part of the group for two years until he and many others are arrested by authorities in early 1866. After a trial that same year he is sentenced to death but the sentence is later commuted to 20 years’ penal servitude. In 1867 he is transported to Western Australia and moves to the town of Bunbury where he escapes two years later. He is assisted in escaping by a Fr. Patrick McCabe from Arnaghan, Gowna, County Cavan.

Following his escape O’Reilly moves to Boston, Massachusetts and embarks on a successful writing and journalism career that produces works such as Moondyne (1879) and Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), and poems such as The Cry of the Dreamer and The White Rose and In Bohemia (1886). He becomes a prominent spokesperson for the Irish community and culture through his editorship of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, his prolific writing and his lecture tours.

O’Reilly marries Mary Murphy (1850-1897), a journalist who writes for the Young Crusader under the name of Agnes Smiley, on August 15, 1872 and has four daughters. In the final four years of his life he suffers various health issues.

On August 9, 1890, O’Reilly takes an early boat to his residence in Hull, Massachusetts. He has been suffering from bouts of insomnia during this time. That evening he takes a long walk with his brother-in-law, John R. Murphy, hoping that physical fatigue will induce the needed sleep. Later on that night he takes some of his wife’s sleeping medicine, which contains chloral hydrate.

In the early morning hours of August 10 his wife wakes up to find O’Reilly unconscious, sitting in a chair with one hand resting on the table near a book and a cigar in the other. She sends a servant for the family’s physician, Dr. Litchfield, and he spends nearly an hour trying to revive him, but O’Reilly dies shortly before 5:00 AM. Public announcements attribute O’Reilly’s death to heart failure but the official death register claims “accidental poisoning.” His memorial service held at Tremont Temple in Boston is a major public event.

The song “Van Diemen’s Land” on U2‘s Rattle and Hum (1988) album refers to and is dedicated to O’Reilly.


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Birth of Joseph Shanahan, Bishop for Southern Nigeria

joseph-shanahanJoseph Ignatius Shanahan B.Sc., C.S.Sp., priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), is born on June 6, 1871 in Glankeen, Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary. He serves as a bishop in Nigeria, first as prefect apostolic of Lower Niger and then as vicar apostolic of Southern Nigeria.

Shanahan joins the Holy Ghost Order in France in 1886, where his uncle Pat Walsh (Brother Adelm) had also joined the Holy Ghost Fathers. In 1889, he is transferred to the French Juniorate of the Congregation in Cellule in the Auvergne. He makes his profession on Easter Sunday 1898 and his ordination takes place on April 22, 1900 in the Blackrock College chapel.

By mid-July 1902, Shanahan has received his appointment for Nigeria to help Fr. Léon Lejeune make bricks to build the first proper mission house in Onitsha.

Shanahan is instrumental in the setting up of the Saint Patrick’s Society for the Foreign Missions, sometimes known as the Kiltegan Fathers, when in 1920, following his ordination in Maynooth as Bishop for Southern Nigeria (then a British protectorate), he appeals to students in Maynooth College for missionaries to Nigeria and Africa.

In 1924 Bishop Shanahan founds a missionary society for women, the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, in Killeshandra, County Cavan.

Bishop Shanahan dies at Nairobi, Kenya, on Christmas Day 1943 aged 72 years, and is initially buried in the community cemetery in St. Mary’s School in Nairobi. However, in January 1956 his remains are brought back to Nigeria for the “second burial” in the Cathedral Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha.

Always revered as a saint by those in close contact with him, Shanahan’s cause for Beatification is introduced officially on November 15, 1997 in Onitsha cathedral.


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Phillip O’Reilly Surrenders to the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

settlement-of-ireland-1653The last major body of Irish Catholic troops under Phillip O’Reilly surrender to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland at Cloughoughter in County Cavan on April 27, 1653. This marks the end of the Irish Confederate Wars which began in 1641.

Colonel Philip O’Reilly is a member of parliament (MP) for County Cavan in the Parliament of Ireland from 1639 to 1641, and a leading member of the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

O’Reilly’s father, grandfather and several other ancestors are chiefs of the O’Reilly clan and Lords of Breifne O’Reilly. His mother is Catherine MacMahon. He resides at Bellanacargy Castle in the barony of Tullygarvey, near to present day village of Drung. Bellanacargy castle, anciently referred to as Ballynacarraig because it was built on a carraig (rock island) situated in the middle of the River Annalee, is destroyed in May 1689 by Williamite forces led by Thomas Lloyd.

As a young man O’Reilly serves for some time in the Spanish army but returns to Ireland. He is appointed Commissioner of the Peace in 1625 and High Sheriff of Cavan in 1629. He is elected as MP for County Cavan in 1639.

During the Parliamentary session of 1640 O’Reilly is enlisted by Rory O’Moore in the plot to start a rebellion against English rule in Ireland. O’Moore is a distant relation as his sister Cecilia O’Moore is married to O’Reilly’s first cousin, Tirlagh O’Neill. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion in October 1641 he is elected chief of the O’Reillys. As a result, the Irish Parliament expels him on November 16, 1641. On November 6, 1641 he orders a general gathering of his clansmen from 16 to 60 years of age, to be held at Virginia, and on December 11, 1641 he has possession of the whole county, except the Killeshandra castles of Keelagh and Croghan which are defended by Sir Francis Hamilton and Sir James Craig. He raises a brigade of twelve hundred men, composed chiefly of his name and family, and serves with distinction as lieutenant-general in the service of the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. The Assembly of Kilkenny appoints him Lord President of Ulster. His second cousin Myles O’Reilly is High Sheriff of Cavan in 1641 at the outbreak of the Rebellion.

O’Reilly is detained for treason by the English government in 1642. In his diary for June 3, 1644, the historian Sir James Ware II states, “Intelligence came to Dublin that Roger Moore and Philip O’Reilly, two of the first incendiaries were committed to prison at Kilkenny.” O’Reilly is further denounced by the Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 at the end of the rebellion. Following the collapse of the Irish confederacy, he formally surrenders to Oliver Cromwell at Cloughoughter Castle on April 27, 1653, being the last Irish garrison to do so. He secures favourable terms and is obliged to leave Ireland. He retires with his brigade into Spain and thence to the Netherlands, where he serves in the Spanish army for about two years and dies in 1655. He is buried in the Irish monastery of St. Dominick in Leuven, Belgium.


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Birth of General Philip Henry Sheridan

philip-sheridanIrish American General Philip Henry Sheridan, career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War, is born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831.

Sheridan is the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan. Fully grown, he reaches only 5 feet 5 inches in height, a stature that leads to the nickname “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln describes his appearance in a famous anecdote, “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan’s career is noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transfers Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeats Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, is one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursues General Robert E. Lee and is instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In later years, Sheridan fights in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Comanche Chief Tosahwi reputedly tells Sheridan in 1869, “Me, Tosahwi; me good Injun,” to which Sheridan supposedly replies, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan denies he had ever made the statement. Biographer Roy Morris Jr. states that, nevertheless, popular history credits Sheridan with saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” This variation “has been used by friends and enemies ever since to characterize and castigate his Indian-fighting career.” In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown attributes the quote to Sheridan but does not provide documentation to support his contention, so the quote may be more apocryphal than real.

Both as a soldier and private citizen, Sheridan is instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The protection of the Yellowstone area is Sheridan’s personal crusade. He authorizes Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. Barlow names Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promotes military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.

In 1883, Sheridan is appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he is promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan serves as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.

Sheridan suffers a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passes legislation to promote him to general and he receives the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moves him from the heat of Washington, D.C. and he dies of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts on August 5, 1888.

His body is returned to Washington and he is buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The burial helps elevate Arlington to national prominence.


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Death of Actor T.P. McKenna

thomas-patrick-mckennaCharacter actor Thomas Patrick McKenna, known professionally as T.P. McKenna and for his stage, film, and television work, dies at Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London on February 13, 2011 following a long illness.

McKenna is born in Mullagh, County Cavan on September 7, 1929. A prolific theater actor throughout his career, he makes his stage debut in Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams at the Pike Theatre in Dublin in 1954.

McKenna makes his film debut in the IRANazi drama The Night Fighters (1960) and from this uncredited beginning he moves up to tenth billing in The Siege of Sidney Street (1960). His next major movie is Girl with Green Eyes (1964), by which time he has also started a successful television career, making his TV debut in Espionage (1963) and over the next few years appears in several more TV shows. His versatility enables him to play three characters in The Avengers (1961). He is also featured in such well-regarded shows as Adam Adamant Lives! (1966), Dixon of Dock Green (1955) and The Saint (1962).

Meanwhile, McKenna’s film career develops along literary lines, and he is featured in Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow (1962), the Sean O’Casey biopic Young Cassidy (1965) and James Joyce‘s Ulysses (1967). He takes smaller parts in such epics as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).

British films such as Perfect Friday (1970) and Villain (1971) allowed McKenna to showcase his suave, urbane persona before trying something different in the controversial Straw Dogs (1971). He appears alongside a young Anthony Hopkins in All Creatures Great and Small (1975) before starring with John Gielgud for the second time, this time in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). Over the next few years his co-stars are as diverse as Leonard Rossiter (Britannia Hospital (1982)), Timothy Dalton (The Doctor and the Devils (1985)), Ben Kingsley (Pascali’s Island (1988)) and Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion (1988)). Not all of these films are successes, but he always gives good value for the money and develops themes of his, such as an interest in Irish issues, in The Outsider (1980). His last released film is Valmont (1989), which is unfortunately completely overshadowed by Dangerous Liaisons (1988), which is based on the same novel.

Over the years McKenna makes numerous guest appearances in TV series such as Minder (1979), Casualty (1986), Lovejoy (1986), Inspector Morse (1987), Heartbeat (1992) and Ballykissangel (1996). He is also prominent in TV movies and series, featuring in Charles DickensMasterpiece Theatre: Bleak House (1985), Stendhal‘s Scarlet and Black (1993) and an adaptation of Henry JamesThe American (1998).

McKenna dies on February 13, 2011 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, at the age of 81 following a long period of illness. He is buried alongside his wife at Teampall Cheallaigh Cemetery in his native County Cavan.

Following his death, tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Prince Charles, and Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, who says that McKenna was “one of a great generation whose talents on the screen and stage both at home and abroad gave us all great pride in his accomplishments.” In County Cavan, he is commemorated by the T. P. McKenna Drama Scholarships (VEC) and the T. P. McKenna Perpetual Trophy presented as part of the Millrace Annual Drama Festival.


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Birth of Anthony Malone, Lawyer & Politician

anthony-maloneAnthony Malone, Irish lawyer and politician, is born on December 5, 1700, the eldest son of Richard Malone of Baronston, County Westmeath, and Marcella, daughter of Redmond Molady. Edmund Malone is his nephew, and a younger brother, Richard Malone (1706–1759), is MP for Fore from 1741.

Malone is educated at Mr. Young’s school in Abbey Street, Dublin, and on April 6, 1720 is admitted a gentleman-commoner of Christ Church, Oxford. After two years at university he enters the Middle Temple and is called to the Irish bar in May 1726. In 1737 he is created LL.D. of Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1733, Malone marries Rose, daughter of Sir Ralph Gore, 4th Baronet, speaker of the Irish House of Commons. The marriage results in no children.

Malone makes a successful career as a lawyer. From 1727 to 1760, and again from 1769 to 1776, he represents the county of Westmeath, and from 1761 to 1768 the borough of Castlemartyr, in the Irish parliament. In 1740 he is appointed Serjeant-at-law, but is dismissed from office in 1754 for opposing the claim of the crown to dispose of unappropriated revenue. In 1757 he is made Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, but his attitude in council in regard to the Money Bill of 1761 leads to his again being removed from office. His treatment is regarded as too severe by William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and Malone, who draws a distinction between advice offered in council and his conduct in parliament, introduces the measure as chairman of the committee of supply. He is shortly afterwards granted a patent of precedence at the bar, but is charged with having sold his political principles for money.

Malone supports John Monck Mason‘s bill for enabling Roman Catholics to invest money in mortgages on land. In 1762 he is appointed, with Sir Richard Aston, to try the Whiteboys of Munster. They agree in ascribing the rural violence to local and individual grievances.

Malone dies at the age of 75 on May 8, 1776. At one time, a marble bust of him adorned Baronston House. By his will, made in July 1774, he leaves all his estates in the counties of Westmeath, Roscommon, Longford, Cavan, and Dublin to his nephew, Richard Malone, 1st Baron Sunderlin as he became, eldest son of his brother Edmund. On his death in 1816 the right of succession is disputed.


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President McAleese Visits Brakey Orange Hall

mcaleese-at-brakey-orange-hallPresident Mary McAleese makes the first official visit by an Irish head of state to an Orange Order hall when she visits Brakey Orange Hall, just outside Bailieborough, County Cavan on November 28, 2008.

Brakey Orange Hall had been destroyed in an arson attack on July 13, 2000, but had since been rebuilt and reopened in 2004. Further extensions and improvements have been made since, with the latest recently completed in time for the occasion.

Approximately 50 local people, many of the men in their orange lapels and other regalia, pack the little hall to honour their guest. Placing the visit in a wider context, McAleese says the “journey of peace-building and peace-making” since the signing of the Belfast Agreement ten years earlier must continue, and calls for a new culture of tolerance and acceptance in both parts of Ireland.

McAleese is welcomed by Cavan County Grand Master Henry Latimer, who praises the financial support for Orange halls in Border counties provided by the Government. He outlines to the President and her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, the close bond between local communities and Orange halls and the facilities provided for meetings, classes and social events. “Given the widespread nature of such activity, it demonstrates why when halls are damaged, attacked, destroyed or [placed] beyond use for periods of time, the community activity of its related hinterland suffers and is curtailed,” he adds.

McAleese hails the occasion as an example of fresh understanding in relationships between different traditions. “We have taken the first important steps towards ending the bitter culture of ‘either-or,’ of them versus us,” she says. She calls on Irish people everywhere “to build a new culture . . . each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices.”

McAleese praises Latimer as a good Cavan man, a good Irishman and a good Orangeman. The burning of Orange halls, she says, are “intemperate acts of vandalism” which are “a throw-back to another time.”

Appealing for an end to attacks on Orange halls and GAA clubs by arsonists McAleese adds, “I invite them all to stop and think how wonderfully transformed all our lives would be if we were all made as welcome in each other’s homes as I have been made welcome here.”

McAleese receives a bouquet of flowers and a piece of Cavan crystal to mark her visit. She later attends other engagements throughout Cavan.

(From: “President makes first official visit by Irish head of state to an Orange hall” by Dan Keenan, The Irish Times, November 28, 2008)


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Death of James Kelly, Irish Army Intelligence Officer

james-kellyJames Kelly, former Irish Army intelligence officer who is found not guilty, along with two former Irish government ministers, of attempting to illegally import arms for the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the Arms Crisis of 1970, dies on July 16, 2003.

Kelly is the eldest of ten children, born on October 16, 1929 into a staunchly Irish republican family from Bailieborough, County Cavan.

Kelly is a central figure in the Arms Crisis, having traveled to Hamburg to arrange the purchase of arms. It emerges later that Neil Blaney had ordered him to do so outside normal legal channels, but before the weapons arrive the Gards Special Detective Unit hears of the plan and informs the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, aborting the importation and resulting in criminal charges for the plotters. Although in his summation the judge says it is no defence for Kelly to say that he believes that the government authorised the importation of arms, Kelly is acquitted.

Despite his acquittal, Kelly suffers financially because he had felt compelled to resign from the Army even before the prosecution was brought. He prints and publishes a personal memoir in paperback format called Orders for the Captain? in 1971.

Kelly never denies his involvement in extra-legal arms purchase talks, but contends that he had been ordered to do so by some ministers. A typical version of the events is found in a 1993 hostile biography of Charles Haughey, claiming: “As early as October 1969, to the certain knowledge of Charles Haughey, James Gibbons, the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and Army Intelligence, there were meetings with leading members of the IRA, when they were promised money and arms. The critical encounter took place in Bailieborough, County Cavan, on Saturday, 4 October 1969. It had been arranged by Captain James Kelly, an army intelligence officer, and Cathal Goulding. Kelly, at that stage, was already the subject of several security reports to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, from the Special Branch, implicating Kelly with subversives and with promises of money and of arms.” Kelly never objected to such versions of the events of 1969.

Kelly is elected vice-chairman of Aontacht Éireann. Aontacht Éireann meets with little success at the polls and by 1980 he has joined Fianna Fáil, becoming a member of its national executive. Following the first applications of the 1987 Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, he resigns from the party in 1989 in opposition to the extradition of Provisional IRA prisoners to the United Kingdom. He also serves twice as President of the 1916-1921 Club. He launches a successful defamation case against Garret FitzGerald over an article in The Irish Times.

James Kelly dies on July 16, 2003 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The epitaph on his grave is “Put not your trust in princes,” a quote from Psalm 146.


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Death of John Patrick Wilson, Fianna Fáil Politician

john-wilsonJohn Patrick Wilson, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Tánaiste from 1990 to 1993, dies in Beaumont, Dublin on July 9, 2007, the day after his 84th birthday. He also serves as Minister for Defence and Minister for the Gaeltacht (1992-1993), Minister for the Marine (1989-1992), Minister for Tourism and Transport (1987-1989), Minister for Communications (March 1987), Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (March-December 1982), Minister for Education (1977-1981) and Teachta Dála (TD) for Cavan (1973-1992).

Wilson is born in Kilcogy, County Cavan on July 8, 1923. He is educated at St. Mel’s College in Longford, the University of London and the National University of Ireland. He graduates with a Master of Arts in Classics and a Higher Diploma in Education. He is a secondary school teacher at Saint Eunan’s College and Gonzaga College and also a university lecturer at University College, Dublin (UCD) before he becomes involved in politics. He is also a Gaelic footballer for Cavan GAA and wins two All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals with the team, one in 1947 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. He is a member of the teachers trade union, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland and serves as president of the association.

Wilson is first elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1973 general election for the Cavan constituency, for Cavan–Monaghan in 1977 and at each subsequent election until his retirement after the dissolution of the 26th Dáil Éireann in 1992. He is succeeded as Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan by his special advisor, Brendan Smith, who goes on to serve as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 2008 to 2011. In 1977 Jack Lynch appoints Wilson to Cabinet as Minister for Education. He goes on to serve in each Fianna Fáil government until his retirement, serving in the governments of Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds.

In 1990 Wilson challenges Brian Lenihan for the Fianna Fáil nomination for the 1990 presidential election. Lenihan wins the nomination but fails to be elected President and is also sacked from the government. Wilson is then appointed Tánaiste. He remains in the cabinet until retirement in 1993. Although the 26th Dáil Éireann is dissolved in December 1992, he serves in Government until the new government takes office.

Following his retirement from politics, Wilson is appointed the Commissioner of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains by Bertie Ahern. This position entails involvement with members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) to assist in finding the bodies of the disappeared who were murdered by the Provisional IRA during The Troubles.

John Wilson dies at St. James Hospital, Dublin on July 9, 2007, one day after his 84th birthday. His funeral takes place at the Good Shepherd Church at Churchtown, Dublin. President Mary McAleese is one of a number of prominent figures among the mourners, while Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is represented by his Aide-de-Camp.