seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of John Morrissey, Irish American Politician & Boxing Champion

John Morrissey, Irish American politician, bare-knuckle boxing champion and criminal also known as ‘Old Smoke,’ is born on February 12, 1831 at Templemore, County Tipperary.

Morrissey is the only son among eight children of Timothy Morrissey, factory worker, and Julia (or Mary) Morrissey. In 1834 the family emigrates to Canada and then the United States, settling at Troy, New York. From the age of ten he works, first in a mill, and then as an iron worker due to his size and strength. He becomes involved in various street gangs, developing a reputation as a pugilist of great strength and resolve. As leader of the Down-Town gang, he defeats six members of the rival Up-Town gang in a single afternoon in 1848. He takes work on a Hudson River steamer and marries Sarah Smith, daughter of the ship’s captain, around 1849. They have one child who dies before reaching adulthood.

In a New York saloon Morrissey challenges Charley ‘Dutch’ Duane to a prize fight and, when he is not to be found, with typical bravado he extends the challenge to everyone present. This impresses the owner, Isaiah Rynders, the Tammany Hall politician, and he employs Morrissey to help the Democratic Party, which involves intimidating voters at election time. A fistfight with gang rival Tom McCann earns him the nickname ‘Old Smoke.’ Mid-fight he is forced onto a bed of coals, but despite having his flesh burned, refuses to concede defeat. He fights his way back and beats McCann into unconsciousness. Stowing away to California to challenge other fighters, he begins a gambling house to raise money, and embarks on a privateering expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands in a quixotic attempt to make his fortune.

In his first professional prize fight on August 21, 1852, Morrissey defeats George Thompson at Mare Island, California, in dubious circumstances, and begins calling himself the ‘champion of America.’ However, it is only on October 12, 1853 that he officially earns this title, when he wins the heavyweight championship of America in a bout at Boston Corner, New York, against Yankee Sullivan. The fight lasts thirty-seven rounds, and Morrissey has the worst of most of them, but he is awarded the contest after a free-for-all in the ring.

Increasingly involved in New York politics, Morrissey and his supporters fight street battles against the rival gang of William Poole, known as ‘Bill the Butcher,’ a Know Nothing politician later fictionalised in the film Gangs of New York (2002). On July 26, 1854 the two men fight on the docks, but Morrissey is beaten badly and forced to surrender. This marks the beginning of a bitter feud between the two parties, with heavy casualties on both sides, which climaxes on March 8, 1855 when Poole is murdered. Morrissey is indicted as a conspirator in the crime, but is soon released because of his political connections.

On October 20, 1858 Morrissey fights John C. Heenan (1835–73) in another heavyweight championship bout. Heenan breaks his hand early in the fight and is always at a disadvantage. After taking much punishment Morrissey finally makes his dominance count. There is a rematch on April 4, 1859, which Morrissey again wins, and after this he retires from the ring. Investing his prize money, he runs two saloons and a gambling house in New York. With the huge profits from his gambling empire he invests in real estate in Saratoga Springs, New York, opening the Saratoga Race Course there in 1863 which has endured to become America’s oldest major sports venue.

A political career beckons as a reward for Morrissey’s consistent support for the Democratic Party. He is elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1866 representing New York’s fifth district, is re-elected the following year, and serves until March 3, 1871. He supports President Andrew Johnson against demands for his impeachment and is skeptical about the Radicals’ plans for reconstruction in the south. In his final years he serves in the New York State Senate (1875–78).

After contracting pneumonia, Morrissey dies at the Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs, on May 1, 1878, and is buried at Saint Peter’s Cemetery, Troy. On the day of his funeral, flags at New York City Hall are lowered to half-mast, while the National Police Gazette declares on May 4, 1878 that “few men of our day have arisen from beginnings so discouraging to a place so high in the general esteem of the community.” His name is included in the list of ‘pioneer’ inductees in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, and each year the John Morrissey Stakes are held at Saratoga Race Course in honour of its founder.

(Pictured: John Morrissey, U.S. Representative from New York, circa 1870s, source Library of Congress)


Leave a comment

Birth of Grace Kelly, Award Winning Actress & Princess of Monaco

Grace Patricia Kelly, an American Academy Award winning actress, is born into an affluent Catholic family of half Irish and half German descent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 12, 1929. After starring in several significant films in the early to mid-1950s, she becomes Princess of Monaco by marrying Prince Rainier III in April 1956.

Kelly’s father, Irish American John B. Kelly, Sr., wins three Olympic gold medals for sculling, and owns a successful brickwork contracting company that is well known on the East Coast. As Democratic nominee in the 1935 election for Mayor of Philadelphia, he loses by the closest margin in the city’s history. In later years he serves on the Fairmount Park Commission and, during World War II, is appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness. Her mother, Margaret Majer, has German parents. She teaches physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and is the first woman to coach women’s athletics at Penn. She also models for a time in her youth. After marrying John Kelly in 1924, she focuses on being a housewife until her four children are of school age, following which she begins actively participating in various civic organizations.

Kelly receives her elementary education in the parish of Saint Bridget’s in East Falls. While attending Ravenhill Academy, a reputable Catholic girls’ school, she models fashions at local charity events with her mother and sisters. In 1942, at the age of 12, she plays the lead in Don’t Feed the Animals, a play produced by the Old Academy Players also in East Falls. In May 1947, she graduates from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution in nearby Chestnut Hill, where she participates in drama and dance programs. Owing to her low mathematics scores, she is rejected by Bennington College in July 1947. Despite her parents’ initial disapproval, she decides to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.

After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1949, Kelly begins appearing in New York City theatrical productions and over 40 live drama productions broadcast in early 1950s Golden Age of Television. She gains stardom from her performance in John Ford‘s adventure-romance Mogambo (1953), for which she is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She wins the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the drama The Country Girl (1954). Other notable works include the western High Noon (1952), the romance-comedy High Society (1956), and three consecutive Alfred Hitchcock suspense thrillers: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955). She works with some of the most prominent leading men of the era, including Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Ray Milland, James Stewart, Bing Crosby, William Holden, Cary Grant, Alec Guinness, and Frank Sinatra.

Kelly retires from acting at age 26 to marry Rainier, and begins her duties as Princess of Monaco. Hitchcock hopes that she will appear in more of his films which require an “icy blonde” lead actress, but he is unable to coax her out of retirement. The Prince and Princess have three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. Princess Grace retains her link to America by her dual U.S. and Monégasque citizenship. Her charity work focuses on young children and the arts, establishing the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to support local artisans in 1964. Her organization for children’s rights, World Association of Children;s Friends (AMADE), gains consultive status within UNICEF and UNESCO. Her final film contribution is in 1977 to documentary The Children of Theatre Street directed by Robert Dornhelm, where she serves as the narrator. The documentary is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

On September 13, 1982, Princess Grace suffers a small stroke while driving back to Monaco from her country home in Roc Agel. As a result, she loses control of her 1971 Rover P6 3500 and drives off the steep, winding road and down the 120-foot mountainside. Her teenage daughter Stéphanie, who is in the passenger seat, tries but fails to regain control of the car. The Princess is taken to the Monaco Hospital (later named the Princess Grace Hospital Centre) with injuries to the brain and thorax and a fractured femur. She dies the following night at 10:55 PM after Rainier decides to turn off her life support. Stéphanie suffers a light concussion and a hairline fracture of a cervical vertebra, and is unable to attend her mother’s funeral.

Princess Grace’s funeral is held at the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate in Monaco-Ville, on September 18, 1982. After a Requiem Mass, she is buried in the Grimaldi family vault. Over 400 people attend, including Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, Danielle Mitterrand, the Princess of Wales, and Empress Farah of Iran.

Rainier, who does not remarry, is buried alongside her after his death in 2005.


Leave a comment

Death of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States

Ulysses S. Grant, American military leader who serves as the 18th president of the United States (1869 to 1877), dies on July 23, 1883 after a long and painful battle with throat cancer.

Grant is born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822 to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and merchant, and Hannah Simpson Grant. His mother descends from Presbyterian immigrants from Ballygawley, County Tyrone.

Raised in Ohio, Grant possesses an exceptional ability with horses, which serves him well through his military career. He is admitted to West Point, graduates 21st in the class of 1843 and serves with distinction in the Mexican–American War. In 1848, he marries Julia Dent, and together they have four children. He abruptly resigns his army commission in 1854 and returns to his family, but lives in poverty for seven years.

Grant joins the Union Army after the American Civil War breaks out in 1861 and rises to prominence after winning several early Union victories on the Western Theater. In 1863 he leads the Vicksburg campaign, which gains control of the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln promotes him to lieutenant general after his victory at Chattanooga. For thirteen months, he fights Robert E. Lee during the high-casualty Overland Campaign and at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox. A week later, Lincoln is assassinated and is succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who promotes him to General of the Army in 1866. Later he openly breaks with Johnson over Reconstruction policies as he used the Reconstruction Acts, which had been passed over Johnson’s veto, to enforce civil rights for recently freed African Americans.

A war hero, drawn in by his sense of duty, Grant is unanimously nominated by the Republican Party and is elected president in 1868. As president, Grant stabilizes the post-war national economy, supports ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and crushes the Ku Klux Klan. He appoints African Americans and Jewish Americans to prominent federal offices. In 1871, to help reduce federal patronage, he creates the first Civil Service Commission. The Liberal Republicans and Democrats unite behind his opponent in the 1872 presidential election, but he is handily re-elected. His Native American policy is to assimilate Indians into the White culture. The Great Sioux War of 1876 is fought during his term. In his foreign policy, the Alabama claims against Great Britain are peacefully resolved, but his prized Caribbean Dominican Republic annexation is rejected by the United States Senate.

Grant’s responses to corruption charges, in his federal departments rife with scandal, are mixed, often naïvely defending the culprits, particularly his war-time comrade Orville E. Babcock. But he also appoints cabinet reformers, such as John Brooks Henderson, for the prosecution of the Whiskey Ring. The Panic of 1873 plunges the nation into a severe economic depression that allows the Democrats to win the House majority. In the intensely disputed 1876 presidential election, he facilitates the approval by Congress of a peaceful compromise.

In his retirement, Grant is the first president to circumnavigate the world on his tour, meeting with Queen Victoria and many prominent foreign leaders. In 1880, he is unsuccessful in obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for a third term. In the final year of his life, facing severe financial reversals and dying of throat cancer, he writes his memoirs, which prove to be a major critical and financial success.

After a year-long struggle with throat cancer, surrounded by his family, Grant dies at 8:08 AM at his Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Philip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, orders a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland orders a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning. After private services, the honor guard places Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which travels to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people view it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), march with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen black stallions to Riverside Park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. His pallbearers include Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR. Following the casket in the seven-mile-long procession are President Cleveland, the two living former presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur, all of the President’s Cabinet, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court.

Attendance at the New York funeral tops 1.5 million. Ceremonies are held in other major cities around the country, while Grant is eulogized in the press and likened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His body is laid to rest in a temporary tomb in Riverside Park. Twelve years later, on April 17, 1897, he is reinterred in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the largest mausoleum in North America.


Leave a comment

Death of Brigadier General Robert Nugent of the U.S. Army

Brigadier General Robert Nugent, Irish-born American United States Army officer during the American Civil War and the Indian Wars, dies at the age of 76 in Brooklyn, New York on June 20, 1901.

Born in Kilkeel, County Down on June 27, 1824, Nugent serves with the 69th New York Infantry Regiment, from its days as a militia unit and into its incorporation into the Union Army at the start of the war, and is one of its senior officers at the First Battle of Bull Run.

When the unit is originally mustered out of service, the 90-day enlistment terms having expired, Nugent accepts a commission as a captain in the regular army. He is immediately assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment whose commanding officer, General William Tecumseh Sherman, personally requests. Taking a leave of absence to return to New York, he assists Thomas Francis Meagher in organizing the Irish Brigade. The newly reformed 69th Infantry Regiment is the first unit assigned to the Irish Brigade and, with Nugent as its colonel, he leads the “Fighting 69th” at the Battles of Seven Pines, Gaines’ Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale, and Malvern Hill.

Nugent is wounded, shot in the stomach, at the Battle of Fredericksburg and is eventually forced to resign his command. He is appointed acting assistant provost marshal for the southern district of New York, which includes New York City and Long Island, by the U.S. Department of War. An Irishman and Democrat, his appointment is thought to assure the Irish American population that conscription efforts would be carried out fairly. The Irish-American, a popular Irish language newspaper, writes that the selection is a “wise and deservedly popular one.” He does encounter resistance from city officials wanting him to remain uninvolved, however by mid-June he reports to his superior officer and provost marshal general Colonel James Fry that conscription efforts are “nearing completion without serious incident.”

Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Nugent attempts to keep the draft selections quiet and in isolated parts of the city. In Manhattan however, lotteries are placed in the heart of Irish tenement and shanty neighborhoods where the draft is most opposed.

In the ensuing New York City draft riots, Nugent takes command of troops and attempts to defend the city against the rioters. Despite issuing the cancellation of the draft, the riots continue for almost a week. His home on West 86th Street is looted and burned by the rioters during that time, his wife and children barely escaping from their home. Upon breaking into his house, furniture is destroyed and paintings of Nugent and Meagher are slashed, although Brigadier General Michael Corcoran‘s is left untouched.

On October 28, Nugent is relieved of his post and succeeded by General William Hayes. Returning to active duty, he assumes command of the Irish Brigade in November 1864, shortly after the death of Corcoran, and is present at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox campaign. As its last commanding officer, he and the Irish Brigade also march in the victory parade held in Washington, D.C. following Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Nugent is brevetted Brigadier General for distinguished leadership of the 69th Regiment on March 13, 1865. The veterans of the Irish Brigade are honorably discharged and mustered out three months later. Nugent, however, remains in the regular U.S. Army for the next twenty years, a formidable “Indian fighter” during the America Indian Wars with the 13th and 24th Infantry Regiments. In 1879, he retires at the rank of major and resides in New York where he is involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, the War Veterans’ Association of the 7th Regiment and an honorary member of The Old Guard.

Nugent becomes ill in his old age, complications arising from his wounds suffered at Fredericksburg, and remains bedridden for two months before his death at his McDonough Street home in Brooklyn on June 20, 1901. In accordance with his last wishes, he is buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery, located in the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn.