seamus dubhghaill

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


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Adoption of the Articles of Confederation

articles-of-confederationThe Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first written constitution of the United States is adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. A number of the members of the Congress hail from Ireland including Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson who is born in Maghera, County Derry in 1729. Thomson is the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. At least three signatories to the Declaration of Independence are Irish – James Smith, George Taylor, and Matthew Thornton.

The Articles of Confederation is approved, after much debate between July 1776 and November 1777, by the Second Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles come into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all thirteen states. A guiding principle of the Articles is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles receives only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.

The document provides clearly written rules for how the states’ “league of friendship” are to be organized. During the ratification process, the Congress looks to the Articles for guidance as it conducts business, directs the war effort, conducts diplomacy with foreign nations, addresses territorial issues and deals with Native American relations. Little changes politically once the Articles of Confederation go into effect, as ratification does little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had already been doing. That body is renamed the Congress of the Confederation however most Americans continue to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remains the same.

As the Confederation Congress attempts to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discover that the limitations placed upon the central government render it ineffective at doing so. As the government’s weaknesses become apparent, especially after Shays’ Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling nation begin asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope is to create a stronger national government.

Initially, some states meet to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states become interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting is set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This becomes the Constitutional Convention. It is quickly agreed that changes will not work, and instead the entire Articles needs to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles is replaced with the federal government under the Constitution of the United States. The new Constitution provides for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.


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Birth of Charles Thomson, American Revolution Patriot

charles-thomsonCharles Thomson, Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Derry, on November 29, 1729.

After the death of his mother in 1739, Thomson’s father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. The father dies at sea, and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietorsAmerican Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. According to biographer Boyd Schlenther, Thomson “took a direct role in the conduct of foreign affairs.” Fred S. Rolater has suggested that Charles Thomson was essentially the “Prime Minister of the United States.” Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he was misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. Charles Thomson dies on August 16, 1824, in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.


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Seamus Heaney Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

seamus-heaneySeamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator, and lecturer, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 15, 1995.

Heaney is born in April 1939 near Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland, where his family engages in farming and selling cattle. His education includes studies at Queen’s University Belfast, where he also serves as a lecturer in the late 1960s. He makes his debut as a poet then, but continues to divide his time between his own writing and academia. He works at Carysforth College in Dublin, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Oxford University.

Heaney’s poetry is often down-to-earth. For him, poetry is like the earth – something that must be plowed and turned. Often he paints the gray and damp landscape from the British Isles. Peat moss has a special place in his poetry. The poems often are connected with daily experiences, but they also derive motifs from history, all the way back to prehistoric times. Heany’s profound interest in the Celtic and the pre-Christian as well as in Catholic literary tradition has found expression in a number of essays and translations.

Heaney is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee describes as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” He is on holiday in Greece with his wife, Marie, when the news breaks. No one, not even journalists or his own children, can locate him until he appears at Dublin Airport two days later, though an Irish television camera traces him to Kalamata. Asked how it feels having his name added to the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responds, “It’s like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.” He and Marie are immediately whisked straight from the airport to Áras an Uachtaráin for champagne with President Mary Robinson.


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Death of Francis McCloskey, First Fatality of “The Troubles”

the-troublesFrancis McCloskey, a 67-year old Catholic civilian, dies on July 14, 1969, one day after being hit on the head with a baton by an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) during street disturbances in Dungiven, County Derry. McCloskey is sometimes considered to be the first fatality of The Troubles.

McCloskey is found unconscious on July 13 near the Dungiven Orange Hall following a police baton charge against a crowd who had been throwing stones at the hall. Witnesses later say they had seen police beating a figure with batons in the doorway where McCloskey is found, although police claim he had been unconscious before the baton charge and may have been hit with a stone.

The Troubles is the common name for the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that begins in the late 1960s and is deemed by most to end with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Although the Troubles mainly take place in Northern Ireland, violence spills over at times into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and mainland Europe.

The conflict is primarily political, but it also has an ethnic or sectarian dimension, although it is not a religious conflict. A key issue is the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Unionists and loyalists, who are mostly Protestants and consider themselves British, generally want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. Irish nationalists and republicans, who are mostly Catholic and consider themselves Irish, generally want it to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland. The conflict begins amid a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic/nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist government and police force in 1968. The campaign is met with violence, eventually leading to the deployment of British troops and subsequent warfare.

The main participants in the Troubles are republican paramilitaries such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), loyalist paramilitaries such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and political activists and politicians. The security forces of the Republic of Ireland play a smaller role. More than 3,500 people are killed in the conflict, of whom 52% were civilians, 32% are members of the British security forces, and 16% are members of paramilitary groups. There has been sporadic violence since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, including a campaign by anti-ceasefire republicans.