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


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Death of Charlotte Grace O’Brien, Philanthropist & Activist

Charlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist and an activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, dies on June 3, 1909. She is known also as a plant collector.

Born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick, O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters. Her father is William Smith O’Brien, the Irish nationalist and her mother is Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. On her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels, and stays there until he comes back to Cahirmoyle in 1856. On her mother’s death in 1861, she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864, O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, caring for his motherless children until his remarriage in 1880. Having been hard of hearing since childhood, by 1879 she has become entirely deaf. She goes to live at Ardanoir near Foynes on the River Shannon, and spends time writing. She becomes a staunch supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

A bad harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, causes many Irish people to emigrate to the United States. In articles and letters to newspapers and reviews, O’Brien exposes the awful conditions that exist in the Queenstown (Cobh) lodging houses, on board the emigrant ships, and in the dock slums of New York City, where the Irish have to stay upon landing. A notable piece she writes is the Horrors of the Immigrant Ship which appears in The Pall Mall Gazette on May 6, 1881.

A visit to Queenstown, the port of embarkation, and a tour of the White Star Line‘s Germanic leads her to successfully lobby to get a Catholic priest aboard the emigrant ship to help ease the passage, at least spiritually. That achievement captures even more public attention by virtue of the fact that O’Brien herself is Protestant. Despite the limit of 1,000 passengers, she notes the steamer has carried as many as 1,775 at one time.

O’Brien presses the Board of Trade for greater vigilance, and in April 1882, founds a 105-bed boarding house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating. The O’Brien Emigrants Home at The Beach, Queenstown fails because it is boycotted by other boardinghouse keepers and local merchants, forcing her to order provisions from Cork.

O’Brien also daily visits three or four of the ships for which her lodgers are destined along with a medical officer. She makes passages herself to America, using the occasion to investigate shipboard conditions and lobby for the reform and enforcement of health and safety standards.

O’Brien finds little effort to provide food, drink or accommodation at the Castle Garden entry facility. She also finds that often the illiterate young women are being tricked into prostitution through spurious offers of employment. Additionally, she notes the high infant mortality rates in the tenements where the women live. She proposes to Archbishop John Ireland of Minnesota an information bureau at Castle Garden, a temporary shelter to provide accommodation for immigrants and a chapel. Archbishop Ireland agrees to raise the matter at the May 1883 meeting of the Irish Catholic Association which endorses the plan and votes to establish an information bureau at Castle Garden. Ireland also contacts Cardinal John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, about providing a priest for immigrants arriving at Castle Garden.

The Mission opens on January 1, 1884 with Rev. John J. Riordan appointed as the first chaplain at Castle Garden. Immigrant girls needing accommodation are placed in local boarding houses until May 1 when a Home for Immigrant Girls is opened at 7 Broadway. In 1885, the James Watson House at 7 State Street is purchased from Isabella Wallace for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls to serve as a way station for young immigrant women. Between 1884 and 1890, the Mission provides assistance to 25,000 Irish immigrant women.

In 1881–82, O’Brien embarks on a campaigning lecture tour in the United States. She encounters problems, however, particularly given her Protestant background and the need to enlist support from Catholic clergy. Poor health, and her profound deafness cause her to curtail her activities in America. When she returns to Ireland in 1883, she finds herself suspected of being a British agent whose Emigrant Boarding house and whose plans for an American home for Irish immigrant girls facilitate the government’s assisted emigrant scheme. Supposedly, this would be the scheme that helps landlords clear their estates of poor tenants. In fact, O’Brien opposes assisted emigration, but she continues to assist those who are sent to her.

O’Brien retires from active public work in 1886, moving to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary. She spends considerable time in Dublin, where she socialises with Douglas Hyde and the painter William Osbourne. She joins the Roman Catholic Church in 1887. She dies of heart failure on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick.


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Birth of Patrick Henry Jones, Postmaster of New York City

patrick-henry-jonesPatrick Henry Jones, American lawyer, public servant, and Postmaster of New York City during the mid-to late 19th century, is born on November 20, 1830, in County Westmeath.

Jones attends grammar school in Dublin for three years until emigrating with his family to the United States in 1840. They settle on a farm in Cattaraugus County, New York where Jones spends most of his childhood. Because of his poor background, he receives only a limited education at the Union School in Ellicottville. In 1850, the 20-year-old Jones becomes involved in journalism and travels as a correspondent throughout the Western States for a leading New York journal. He later becomes the local editor for the Buffalo Republic and one of the editors of the Buffalo Sentinel.

Eventually, Jones decides to pursue a career in law and later studies under the firm of Addison Rice. He is admitted to the bar in 1856 and afterwards practices law with Addison in Ellicottville as a full partner. By 1860, he has established himself as one of the most prominent lawyers in western New York. A lifelong Democrat, he becomes disillusioned by the party’s support of Southern succession from the Union and, in May 1861, decides to join the military in defense of the United States.

Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, Jones readily joins the Union Army. On July 7, 1861, he enlisted with the 37th New York Volunteers, popularly known as the “Irish Rifles”, under Colonel John H. McCunn. Jones has a successful career serving in the Union Army, being involved in thirty major battles and countless skirmishes, and reaching the rank of brigadier general. He remains at that rank for the rest of the war and resigns on June 17, 1865. He is one of ten Irish Americans to become brigade commanders and one of four Irish-born officers to become a divisional commander.

After his resignation, Jones resumes his law practice in Ellicottville and in November 1865 is elected on the Republican ticket as Clerk of the New York Court of Appeals. On August 13, 1868, Jones is appointed by Gov. Reuben E. Fenton as Register of New York City to fill the vacancy resulting from the death of Charles G. Halpine. On April 1, 1869, Jones is appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as Postmaster of New York City. From 1875 to 1877, Jones is again Register of New York City, elected in November 1874 on the Republican ticket. Afterwards he resumes his private practice.

In 1878, Jones is involved in the Alexander T. Stewart bodysnatching case when he is contacted by the kidnappers to act as an intermediary between themselves and the Stewart estate. When negotiations stall between the Stewart family’s lawyer Henry Hilton, he assists Stewart’s widow in negotiating for the return of her husband’s body.

Jones suffers serious medical problems in his old age, specifically deafness and chronic diarrhea, which his physician blames on his exposure to artillery fire and his time in the swamps along the Chickahominy River during his military service. He also suffered from constant pain in his right sciatic nerve, attributed to his old war wound suffered at Chancellorsville, as well as his wound in the gluteal region.

In early July 1900, Jones begins suffering from severe gastroenteritis. His condition does not respond to therapeutic treatments as he loses control of his bowels and is unable to keep down solid food, living on scalded milk and brandy. On July 18, 1900, Jones dies from cardiac failure, indirectly caused by his gastroenteritis, at his home in Port Richmond, New York. His funeral is held at St. Mary’s Church two days later and he is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery.