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


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Death of William R. Grace, Irish American Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Russell_Grace.jpgWilliam Russell Grace, Irish American politician, the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City, and the founder of W. R. Grace and Company, dies in New York City on March 21, 1904.

Grace is born on May 10, 1832 in Ireland in Riverstown near the Cove of Cork to James Grace and Eleanor May Russell (née Ellen) while the family is away from home. He is raised on Grace property at Ballylinan in Queens County, now County Laois, near the town of Athy. He is a member of a prominent and well-to-do family. In 1846, he sails for New York against the wishes of his father, and works as a printer’s devil and a shoemaker’s helper before returning to Ireland in 1848.

His nephew, Cecil Grace, attempts a crossing of the English Channel in December 1910 in an airplane, flying from Dover to Calais. However, in coming back he becomes disoriented and over Dover flies northeast over the Goodwin Sands toward the North Sea and is lost.

Grace and his father travel to Callao, Peru, in 1851, seeking to establish an Irish agricultural community. While his father returns home, William remains and begins work with the firm of John Bryce and Co., as a ship chandler. In 1854, the company is renamed Bryce, Grace & Company, in 1865, to Grace Brothers & Co., and ultimately to W. R. Grace and Company.

On September 11, 1859, Grace is married to Lillius Gilchrist, the daughter of George W. Gilchrist, a prominent ship builder of Thomaston, Maine, and Mary Jane (née Smalley) Gilchrest. Together, they have eleven children.

Opposing the famous Tammany Hall, Grace is elected as the first Irish American Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880. He conducts a reform administration attacking police scandals, patronage and organized vice, reduces the tax rate, and breaks up the Louisiana State Lottery Company. Defeated in the following election, he is re-elected in 1884 on an Independent ticket but loses again at the following election. During his second term, he receives the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France.

Grace is a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian, at one point contributing a quarter of the aid delivered to Ireland aboard the steamship Constellation during the Irish Famine of 1879. In 1897, he and his brother, Michael, found the Grace Institute for the education of women, especially immigrants.

William R. Grace dies on March 21, 1904 at his residence, 31 East 79th Street, in New York City. His funeral is held at St. Francis Xavier Church on West 16th Street and he is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. At the time of his death his estate is valued at $25,000,000.

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First Clash of the Tithe War

battle-at-carrickshockThe first clash of the Tithe War takes place on March 3, 1831 in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, when a force of 120 yeomanry attempt to enforce seizure orders on cattle belonging to a Roman Catholic priest. Encouraged by his bishop, he has organised people to resist tithe collection by placing their stock under his ownership prior to sale.

The Tithe War is a campaign of mainly nonviolent civil disobedience, punctuated by sporadic violent episodes, in Ireland between 1830 and 1836 in reaction to the enforcement of tithes on the Roman Catholic majority for the upkeep of the established state church – the Church of Ireland. Tithes are payable in cash or kind and payment is compulsory, irrespective of an individual’s religious adherence.

After Emancipation in 1829, an organized campaign of resistance to collection begins. It is sufficiently successful to have a serious financial effect on the welfare of established church clergy. In 1831, the government compiles lists of defaulters and issues collection orders for the seizure of goods and chattels. Spasmodic violence breaks out in various parts of Ireland, particularly in counties Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford. The Royal Irish Constabulary, which had been established in 1822, attempts to enforce the orders of seizures. At markets and fairs, the constabulary often seize stock and produce, which often results in violent resistance.

A campaign of passive resistance is proposed by Patrick “Patt” Lalor, a farmer of Tenakill, Queen’s County (now County Laois), who later serves as a repeal MP. He declares at a public meeting in February 1831 in Maryborough that he would never again pay tithes and, although the tithe men might take his property and offer it for sale, his countrymen would not buy or bid for it if offered for sale. Lalor holds true to his word and does not resist the confiscation of 20 sheep from his farm, but is able to ensure no buyers appear at subsequent auctions.

Following the clash at Graiguenamanagh, the revolt soon spreads. On June 18, 1831, in Bunclody, County Wexford, people resisting the seizure of cattle are fired upon by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who kill twelve and wound twenty. One yeoman is shot dead in retaliation. This massacre causes objectors to organise and use warnings such as church bells to signal the community to round up the cattle and stock. On December 14, 1831, resisters use such warnings to ambush a detachment of 40 Constabulary at Carrickshock, County Kilkenny. Twelve constables, including the Chief Constable, are killed and more wounded.

Regular clashes causing fatalities continue over the next two years. On December 18, 1834, the conflict comes to a head at Rathcormac, County Cork, when armed Constabulary reinforced by the regular British Army kill twelve and wound forty-two during several hours of fighting when trying to enforce a tithe order reputedly to the value of 40 shillings.

Finding and collecting livestock chattels and the associated mayhem creates public outrage and proves an increasing strain on police relations. The government suspends collections. In 1838, parliament introduces a Tithe Commutation Act. This reduces the amount payable directly by about a quarter and makes the remainder payable in rent to landlords. They in turn are to pass payment to the authorities. Tithes are thus effectively added to a tenant’s rent payment. This partial relief and elimination of the confrontational collections ends the violent aspect of the Tithe War.

Full relief from the tax is not achieved until the Irish Church Act 1869, which disestablishes the Church of Ireland, by the William Ewart Gladstone government.

(Pictured: The battle at Carrickshock, from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England’, volume VII – 1895.)


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.


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Funeral of Sister Theresa Egan

sister-theresa-eganIrish soil is sprinkled over the casket of Sister Theresa Egan as more than 2,000 mourners attend her funeral on the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Lucia on January 7, 2001. The nun is brutally murdered while attending Mass on New Year’s Eve. She is described as a “cheerful and committed” woman by her colleagues.

Sister Egan, originally from Clonaslee, County Laois, trains as a nun at the order’s convent in Ferbane, County Offaly, and leaves Ireland in her early 20s. She spends the first 20 years on the missions, working for long periods in the West Indies, including Grenada.

Sister Egan lives in Saint Lucia for more than four decades, serving as a teacher and administrator at several Catholic schools. She comes from a religious family and seven of the nine children join orders. She is survived by three elderly sisters, all Presentation nuns, and at least one brother.

When the attack takes place Sister Egan, 73, is serving communion at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Castries. According to local police the attack is carried out by a group of men, dressed in traditional rastafarian clothes, who claim to be opposed to the island’s main churches.

Sister Egan is beaten to death after she tries to escape the attackers. One other person reportedly dies at the hospital after the attack. At least 12 are injured including another Irish nun, Sister Mel Kenny from Clonmacnoise, County Offaly.

Two men who identify themselves as Rastafarians are formally charged with murder and attempted murder among other offences.

Her funeral mass takes place in the same Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where she died. At the front of the basilica, candles are arranged to spell out the words “sister” and “peace.” She is then buried on a hillside overlooking the capital, Castries, where the attack occurred.

The reasons for attack on the Castries cathedral are unknown and lead to much speculation in the Saint Lucian press. Initial reports say the two suspects tell police they are prophets sent by Haile Selassie, the late Ethiopian emperor worshiped as a god by Rastafarians, to combat corruption in the Catholic church. However Rastafarian leader Ras Bongo Isley says the attack is not the work of real rastafarians, since the movement “teaches love and peace.”

There are also reports that the men belong to an anti-Christian organisation, and that “satanic” symbols had been posted on the doors of Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and other churches a week before the attack. The accused, however, are said to deny any knowledge of the symbols.


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Birth of Benedict Kiely, Writer & Broadcaster

benedict-kielyBenedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children.

In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.


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Death of Activist James Haughton

james-haughtonJames Haughton, Irish social reformer and temperance activist, dies in Dublin on February 20, 1873.

Haughton, son of Samuel Pearson Haughton (1748–1828), by Mary, daughter of James Pim of Rushin, Queen’s County (now County Laois), is born in Carlow, County Carlow, and educated at Ballitor, County Kildare, from 1807 to 1810, under James White, a quaker. After filling several situations to learn his business, in 1817 he settles in Dublin, where he becomes a corn and flour factor, in partnership with his brother William. He retires in 1850. Although educated as a Friend, he joins the Unitarians in 1834, and remains throughout his life a strong believer in their tenets.

Haughton supports the anti-slavery movement at an early period and takes an active part in it until 1838, going in that year to London as a delegate to a convention. Shortly after the Temperance campaigner Father Theobald Mathew takes the pledge, on April 10, 1838, Haughton becomes one of his most devoted disciples. For many years he gives most of his time and energies to promoting total abstinence and to advocating legislative restrictions on the sale of intoxicating drinks.

In December 1844 Haughton is the chief promoter of a fund which is raised to pay some of the debts of Father Mathew and release him from prison. About 1835 he commences a series of letters in the public press which make his name widely known. He writes on temperance, slavery, British India, peace, capital punishment, sanitary reform, and education. His first letters are signed “The Son of a Water Drinker,” but he soon commences using his own name and continues to write until 1872.

Haughton takes a leading part in a series of weekly meetings which are held in Dublin in 1840, when so numerous are the social questions discussed that a newspaper editor calls the speakers the “Anti-everythingarians.” In association with Daniel O’Connell, of whose character he has a very high opinion, he advocates various plans for the amelioration of the condition of Ireland and the Repeal of the Union, but is always opposed to physical force.

Haughton becomes a vegetarian in 1846, both on moral and sanitary grounds. For two or three years before his death he is president of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom. He is one of the first members of the Statistical Society of Dublin (1847), a founder of the Dublin Mechanics’ Institute (1849), in the same year is on the committee of the Dublin Peace Society, aids in abolishing Donnybrook Fair in 1855, and takes a chief part in 1861 in opening the National Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin on Sundays.

James Haughton dies at 35 Eccles Street, Dublin, on February 20, 1873, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery on February 24 in the presence of an immense crowd of people.

Haughton’s son, Samuel Haughton, publishes a memoir of his father’s life including extracts from his public correspondence in 1877.


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Earliest Verifiable Viking Invasion of Ireland

The earliest verifiable date of a Viking invasion of Ireland is September 9, 872, in Dunrally in what is now County Laois.

The Vikings conduct extensive raids in Ireland and found many towns, including Dublin, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Arklow and Leixlip. Literature, crafts, and decorative styles in Ireland and Britain reflect Scandinavian culture. Vikings trade at Irish markets in Dublin. Excavations find imported fabrics from England, Byzantium, Persia, and Central Asia. Dublin becomes so crowded by the 11th century that houses are built outside the town walls.

The Vikings pillage monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795, and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island are most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids are conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. From 830 on, the groups consist of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings begin establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin is the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish become accustomed to the Viking presence and culture. In some cases they become allies and also intermarry.

In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships under Turgesius invades kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincides with Scandinavian leaders’ desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids begin to push deeper into Ireland. Navigable waterways make this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings have several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland.

In 838, a small Viking fleet enters the River Liffey in eastern Ireland, probably led by the chieftain Saxolb, who is killed later that year. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish call longphorts. This longphort would eventually become Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experience Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also establish longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings are driven out of Ireland for a short period around 900, but return to Waterford in 914 to found what would become Ireland’s first city. The other longphorts are soon re-occupied and developed into cities and towns.

The last major Irish battle involving Vikings is the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which a large force from the pan-Viking world and their Irish allies oppose Brian Boru, then the High King of Ireland and his forces, a small contingent of which are Viking defectors. The battle is fought in what is the now Dublin suburb of Clontarf on Good Friday of that year. Boru, the Irish High King has allowed the Viking King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, one year to prepare for his coming assault. Silkbeard responds by offering the bed of his mother to several Viking lords from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain. The savage mêlée between the heavily mailed Norse and the unarmoured, yet undaunted Gaels ends in a rout of the Vikings and their Irish allies. Careful accounts are taken by both sides during the battle, and thus many famous warriors seek each other out for personal combat and glory. High King Brian, who is nearly eighty, does not personally engage in the battle but retires to his tent where he spends the day in quiet prayer.

The Viking Brodir of Man chances upon Brian’s tent as he flees the field. He and a few followers seize the opportunity, and surprise the High King, killing the aged Brian before being captured. Brian’s foster son Ulf the Quarrelsome later tracks down and dispatches Brodir by disembowelment. The battle is fairly matched for most of the day and each side has great respect for the prowess of the other, however, in the end, the Irish forces the Norse to return to the sea. Many of the fleeing Vikings are drowned in the surf due to their heavy mail coats as they struggled for the safety of their longships. Others are pursued and slain further inland.

After the battle, Viking power is broken in Ireland forever, though many settled Norse remain in the cities and prosper greatly with the Irish through trade. With Brian dead, Ireland returns to the fractured kingdom it had once been, but is now cleared of further Viking predation.

(Pictured: Guest from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich, 1901)