seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.