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


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.

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Birth of Katharine O’Shea Parnell

katharine-osheaKatharine O’Shea (née Wood), English woman of aristocratic background, whose decade-long secret adultery with Charles Stewart Parnell leads to a widely publicized divorce in 1890 and his political downfall, is born in Braintree, Essex on January 30, 1846.

Katharine is the daughter of Sir John Page Wood, 2nd Baronet (1796–1866), and granddaughter of Sir Matthew Wood, a former Lord Mayor of London. She has an elder brother who becomes Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood and is also the niece of both Western Wood MP (1804–1863) and Lord William Wood, William Ewart Gladstone‘s first Liberal Lord Chancellor.

Katharine marries Captain William O’Shea in 1867, a Catholic Nationalist MP for Clare from whom she separates around 1875. She first meets Parnell in 1880 and begins a relationship with him. Three of her children are fathered by Parnell. Although Captain O’Shea keeps publicly quiet for several years, he is aware of the relationship. He challenges Parnell to a duel in 1881 and initially forbids his estranged wife to see him, although she says that he encouraged her in the relationship. Although their relationship is a subject of gossip in London political circles from 1881, later public knowledge of the affair in an England governed by “Victorian morality” with a “nonconformist conscience” creates a huge scandal, as adultery is prohibited by the Ten Commandments.

Out of her family connection to the Liberal Party, Katharine acts as liaison between Parnell and Gladstone during negotiations prior to the introduction of the First Irish Home Rule Bill in April 1886. Parnell moves to her home in Eltham, close to the London-Kent border, that summer.

Captain O’Shea files for divorce in 1889 and his reasons are a matter for speculation. Some say he may have political motives. Alternatively, it is claimed that he has been hoping for an inheritance from Katharine’s rich aunt whom he had expected to die earlier, but when she dies in 1889 her money is left in trust to cousins. After the divorce the court awards custody of Katharine O’Shea and C.S. Parnell’s two surviving daughters to her ex-husband.

Katharine’s November divorce proceedings from Captain O’Shea, in which Parnell is named as co-respondent, leads to Parnell’s being deserted by a majority of his own Irish Parliamentary Party and to his downfall as its leader in December 1890. Catholic Ireland feels a profound sense of shock when Katharine breaks the vows of her previous Catholic marriage by marrying Parnell on June 25, 1891. With his political life and his health essentially ruined, Parnell dies at the age of 45 in Hove on October 6, 1891 in her arms, less than four months after their marriage. The cause is stomach cancer, possibly complicated by coronary artery disease inherited from his grandfather and father, who also died prematurely.

Though to her friends Katharine is known as Katie O’Shea, Parnell’s enemies, in order to damage him personally, call her “Kitty O’Shea” because at that time “kitty,” as well as being an Hiberno-English version of Catherine/Katherine/Katharine, is also a slang term for a prostitute. She lives the rest of her life in relative obscurity. She dies on February 5, 1921, at the age of 75, and is buried in Littlehampton, Sussex, England, apparently never once setting foot on Irish soil.

Captain Henry Harrison, MP, who had acted as Parnell’s bodyguard and aide-de-camp, devotes himself after Parnell’s death to the service of his widow. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce issue from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later two books defending Parnell published in 1931 and 1938. They have a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair.


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Birth of Sir Philip Francis

philip-francisSir Philip Francis, Irish-born British politician and pamphleteer, is born in Dublin on October 22, 1740. He is known as an antagonist of Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of British India.

The son of Dr. Philip Francis, a man known by his translations of Horace, Aeschines and Demosthenes, Francis is educated in Dublin and London and holds a variety of clerical posts in the government from 1756 to 1773. He may have written the Letters of Junius, a series of bitter lampoons against the government of King George III published by a London newspaper from 1769 to 1772, when he was a clerk in the war office. The authorship of the letters has been assigned to Francis on a variety of grounds, including a computer-aided analysis of the Junius texts in the 1960s.

In June 1773 the prime minister, Lord Frederick North, appointed Francis a member of the newly created four-man council that is to rule British possessions in India with Governor-General Hastings. He leads two of his colleagues in a struggle against Hastings, in part because he covets Hastings’ job, but there are also differences between the two men on policy matters, including land-revenue collection. Although Hastings gains the upper hand by 1776 after two of the opposing councilors die, Francis continues his attacks and, in 1780, the governor-general wounds him in a duel.

Returning to England in 1781, Francis turns public opinion against Hastings with a series of anonymous pamphlets. He enters the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in 1784 and is the moving spirit behind Hastings’ impeachment, begun in 1788. The acquittal of Hastings in 1795 embitters Francis deeply and leads to his defeat in a parliamentary election. He served again in Parliament from 1802 to 1807, at which time he retires from politics. He is knighted in 1806.

Sir Philip Francis dies in London on December 23, 1818.


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Birth of William Maginn, Journalist & Writer

william-maginnWilliam Maginn, journalist and miscellaneous writer, is born in Cork on July 10, 1794.

Maginn becomes a contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine and, after moving to London in 1824, becomes for a few months in 1826 the Paris correspondent to The Representative, a paper started by John Murray, the publisher. When its short career is run, he helps to found in 1827 the ultra Tory Standard, a newspaper that he edits along with a fellow graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Stanley Lees Giffard. He also writes for the more scandalous Sunday paper, The Age.

In 1830 Maginn instigates and becomes one of the leading supporters of Fraser’s Magazine. His Homeric Ballads, much praised by contemporary critics, are published in Fraser’s between 1839 and 1842. In 1837, Bentley’s Miscellany is launched, with Charles Dickens as editor, and Maginn writes the prologue and contributes over the next several years a series of “Shakespeare Papers” that examine characters in counter-intuitive fashion. From “The Man in the Bell” (Blackwood’s, 1821) through “Welch Rabbits” (Bentley’s, 1842) Maginn is an occasional though skillful writer of short fiction and tales. His only novel, Whitehall (1827) pretends to be a historical novel set in 1820s England written in the year 2227. It is a droll spoof of the vogue for historical novels as well as the contemporary political scene.

In 1836, Maginn fights a duel with Grantley Berkeley, a member of Parliament. Berkeley had brutally assaulted magazine publisher James Fraser over a review Maginn wrote of Berkeley’s novel Berkeley Castle, and Maginn calls him out. Three rounds are fired but no one is struck.

One of the most brilliant periodical writers of his time, Maginn leaves little permanent work behind him. In his later years, his intemperate habits land him in debtor’s prison. When he emerges through the grace of the Insolvent Debtor’s Act he is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis. He writes until the end, including in the first volume of Punch, but he dies in extreme poverty in Walton-on-Thames, London on August 21, 1842, survived by his wife Ellen, and daughters Annie and Ellen, and son John. His nephew Francis Maginn, who is deaf, is a co-founder of the British Deaf and Dumb Association, now called the British Deaf Association (BDA).


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The Death of Art Ó Laoghaire

art-o-laoghaireArt Ó Laoghaire, an Irish Roman Catholic and captain in the Hungarian Hussars Regiment of the army of Maria Theresa of Austria, is killed by soldiers near Millstreet, County Cork on May 4, 1773.

Ó Laoghaire marries Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, aunt of Daniel O’Connell, in 1767. She has been a widow from the age of 15 and is now 23. They have three children, Cornelius, Fiach and a third who apparently does not survive infancy.

Having returned home to Rathleigh House near Macroom, Cork, the hot-tempered Ó Laoghaire becomes involved in a feud with a protestant landowner and magistrate, Abraham Morris of Hanover Hall, Macroom. When Morris is High Sheriff of County Cork in 1771, he lays charges against Ó Laoghaire following his alleged attack on Morris and the wounding of his servant on July 13, 1771 at Hanover Hall. In October of that year, Ó Laoghaire is indicted in his absence, and Morris offers a 20 guinea reward for his capture.

The feud between the two men continues and in 1773, Morris demands that Ó Laoghaire sell him the fine horse that Ó Laoghaire had brought back from his service in the Austro-Hungarian army for £5. The Penal Laws state that no Catholic might own a horse worth more than £5 and could be forced to sell a more valuable one on demand to any Protestant at this price. Ó Laoghaire refuses to sell and challenges Morris to a duel, which Morris declines. Morris uses, or misuses, his position as magistrate to persuade his fellow magistrates to proclaim Ó Laoghaire an outlaw, who can then legally be shot on sight. Morris leads a contingent of soldiers that track Ó Laoghaire down to Carrignanimma on May 4, 1773. He gives the order to fire on Ó Laoghaire. The first shot, which kills him, is fired by a soldier called Green.

Morris and the soldiers are held to be guilty of Ó Laoghaire’s murder by a coroner’s inquest on May 17, but Morris is acquitted of the murder by Cork magistrates on September 6, 1773. Morris is shot in Cork on July 7 by Ó Laoghaire’s brother Cornelius, who sees Morris at a window of a house in Hammond’s Lane where he is lodging. He fires three shots, wounding Morris. The shots are not immediately fatal, but Morris dies in September 1775, presumably as the result of the shooting. The soldier Green is decorated for his “gallantry.”

Ó Laoghaire’s wife Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill composes the long poem “Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire” (Lament for Art O’Leary), mourning his death and calling for revenge.

Ó Laoghaire’s tomb at Kilcrea Friary has the epitaph likely composed by his widow:

Lo Arthur Leary, generous, handsome, brave,
Slain in his bloom lies in this humble grave.