seamus dubhghaill

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


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William J. Brennan Appointed to U.S. Supreme Court

william-brennanWilliam Joseph Brennan, Jr., American judge, is named an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States through a recess appointment by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 15, 1956, shortly before the 1956 presidential election. He serves from 1956 until July 20, 1990. As the seventh longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, he is known for being a leader of the Court’s liberal wing.

Brennan is born in Newark, New Jersey to Irish immigrants, originally from County Roscommon, on April 25, 1906. He attends public schools in Newark, graduating from Barringer High School in 1924. He then attends the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduates cum laude with a degree in economics in 1928. He graduates from Harvard Law School near the top of his class in 1931 and is a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Brennan enters private practice in New Jersey and serves in the United States Army during World War II. He is appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1951. After his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by Eisenhower in 1956, he wins Senate confirmation the following year.

On the Supreme Court, Brennan is known for his outspoken progressive views, including opposition to the death penalty and support for abortion rights. He authors several landmark case opinions, including Baker v. Carr, establishing the “one person, one vote” principle, and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which requires “actual malice” in libel suits brought by public officials. Due to his ability to shape a wide variety of opinions and “bargain” for votes in many cases, he is considered to be among the Court’s most influential members. Justice Antonin Scalia calls Brennan “probably the most influential Justice of the [20th] century.”

Brennan holds the post on the Court until his retirement on July 20, 1990 after suffering a stroke. He is succeeded by Justice David Souter. Brennan then teaches at Georgetown University Law Center until 1994. He dies in Arlington County, Virginia on July 24, 1997 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

With 1,360 opinions, he is second only to William O. Douglas in number of opinions written while a Supreme Court justice. On November 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton presents Brennan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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The Last Execution in the Republic of Ireland

michael-manningMichael Manning, Irish murderer, becomes the twenty-ninth and last person to be executed in the Republic of Ireland on April 20, 1954.

Manning, a 25-year-old carter from Johnsgate in Limerick, County Limerick, is found guilty of the rape and murder of Catherine Cooper, a 65-year-old nurse who works at Barrington’s Hospital in the city, in February 1954. Nurse Cooper’s body is discovered on November 18, 1953 in the quarry under the New Castle, Dublin Road, Castletroy. She is found to have choked on grass stuffed into her mouth to keep her from screaming during the committal of the crime.

Manning expresses remorse at the crime which he does not deny. By his own account, he is making his way home on foot after a day’s drinking in The Black Swan, Annacotty when he sees a woman he does not recognise walking alone. “I suddenly lost my head and jumped on the woman and remember no more until the lights of a car shone on me.” He flees at this point but is arrested within hours, after his distinctive hat is found at the scene of the crime.

Although Manning makes an impassioned plea for clemency in a letter to Minister for Justice Gerald Boland, his request is denied despite it also being supported by Nurse Cooper’s family. The execution by hanging is duly carried out on April 20, 1954 in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin by Albert Pierrepoint, who has traveled from Britain where he is one of three Senior Executioners.

Frank Prendergast, subsequently Teachta Dála (TD) for Limerick East who knew Manning well, recalls later, “Friends of mine who worked with me, I was serving my time at the time, went up to visit him on the Sunday before he was hanged. And they went to Mass and Holy Communion together and they played a game of handball that day. He couldn’t have been more normal.”

Manning leaves a wife who is pregnant at the time of the murder. His body is buried in an unmarked grave in a yard at Mountjoy Prison.

The death penalty is abolished in 1964 for all but the murder of gardaí, diplomats and prison officers. It is abolished by statute for these remaining offences in 1990 and is finally expunged from the Constitution of Ireland by approval by referendum of the Twenty-First Amendment on June 7, 2001.

The hanging of Michael Manning inspires a play by Ciaran Creagh. Creagh’s father, Timothy, is one of the two prison officers who stays with Michael Manning on his last night and Last Call is loosely based on what happened. It is shown in Mountjoy Prison’s theatre for three nights in June 2006.


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Premiere of “The Quare Fellow”

Brendan Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, premieres at the Pike Theatre in Dublin on November 19, 1954, to critical success. The title is taken from a Hiberno-English pronunciation of queer.

The Quare Fellow is initially offered to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, but is turned down. The play has its London première in May 1956 at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. On July 24, 1956 it transfers to the Comedy Theatre, London. In September 1956 the Abbey Theatre finally performs The Quare Fellow. It has such success that the Abbey’s artistic director, Ria Mooney, pushes the next play back to allow The Quare Fellow to run for six weeks. Its first New York performance is on November 27, 1958 at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

The play is set in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. The antihero of the play, the Quare Fellow, is never seen or heard but rather functions as the play’s central conceit. He is a man condemned to die on the following day, for an unmentioned crime. Whatever it is, it revolts his fellow inmates far less than that of the Other Fellow, a very camp, almost Wildean, gay man.

There are three generations of prisoners in Mountjoy including boisterous youngsters who can irritate both other inmates and the audience and the weary old lags Neighbour and “methylated martyr” Dunlavin.

The first act is played out in the cramped area outside five cells and is comedic, sometimes rather like an Irish episode of Porridge. After the interval, the pace slows considerably and the play becomes much darker, as the time for the execution approaches. The focus moves to the exercise yard and to the workers who are digging the grave for the soon-to-be-executed Quare Fellow.

The play is a grimly realistic portrait of prison life in Ireland in the 1950s, and a reminder of the days in which homosexuality was illegal and the death penalty relatively common. The play is based on Behan’s own prison experiences, and highlights the perceived barbarity of capital punishment, then in use in Ireland. The play also attacks the false piety in attitudes to sex, politics and religion.

The Auld Triangle“, a song from the opening of the play, has become an Irish music standard and is known by many who are unaware of its link to The Quare Fellow.

In 1962 the play is adapted for the screen by Arthur Dreifuss and stars Patrick McGoohan, Sylvia Syms and Walter Macken. Although the film receives some favourable reviews, it is not regarded as a faithful adaptation of the play.