seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Sister Maura John Clarke

sister-maura-clarkeSister Maura John Clarke, Irish American Catholic Maryknoll sister who serves as a missionary in Nicaragua and El Salvador, is born Mary Elizabeth Clarke in Queens, New York on January 13, 1931, the eldest of three children.

Clarke’s parents, both born in Ireland, settle in Belle Harbor, Queens, New York in the late 1920s. She enters Maryknoll in 1950 and makes her first vows in 1953. Initially, she is attracted to Maryknoll by a deep desire “to become closer to God and to serve Him.”

After graduation from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1954, Sister Clarke is assigned to teach at St. Anthony’s Parish School in The Bronx. In 1959 her growing desire “to serve Him” is further strengthened with her assignment to Siuna, Nicaragua, as a teacher and then superior of the little community. She is in Managua from 1970 to 1976 where she ministers to the people, sharing with them in the cataclysmic earthquake of 1972. With them she works tirelessly, helping them rebuild their homes and establish basic Christian communities.

In 1977 Sister Clarke returns to the Center to serve on a Maryknoll Sisters World Awareness Team, working primarily along the East Coast of the United States. She is the same everywhere she serves – friendly, loving, generous, gentle, using her gifts and abilities tirelessly, and trusting that with God’s help she can do what is needed. When her term with the World Awareness Team ends early in 1980, she decides to return to Nicaragua.

In August 1980 emergency needs in El Salvador call Sister Clarke and she spends her first weeks there in Santa Ana. However, after Sister Carol Piette’s death, she volunteers immediately to accompany Sister Ita Ford in Chalatenango to minister to the poor and oppressed and the imprisoned.

When Sister Clarke comes to the Regional Assembly the day before Thanksgiving, November 26, 1980, she feels not only willing to return to El Salvador, but convinced that Chalatenango is the place where she can and will serve Christ’s poor. With Sister Ford she searches out the missing, prays with the families of prisoners, buries the dead, and works with the people in their struggle to break out of the bonds of oppression, poverty, and violence. Their days are filled with difficulty and fearful danger at times.

Sister Clarke returns with Sister Ford to El Salvador late in the afternoon of December 2, 1980. Two of their good friends and collaborators in mission meet them at the airport to take them back to Chalatenango. A few hours later she is beaten, raped, and murdered along with three fellow missionaries — Sister Ita Ford, Sister Dorothy Kazel and missionary Jean Donovan — by members of the military of El Salvador. She is buried in Chalatenango, El Salvador.


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Birth of Michael D. Higgins, Ninth President of Ireland

Michael Daniel Higgins, politician, human rights activist, university lecturer, poet, and the ninth and current President of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on April 18, 1941. He takes office on November 11, 2011 following victory in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

At age five Higgins is separated from his parents, whose struggle to make ends meet is partly the product of his father’s ill health. He is raised in modest means by relatives in County Clare and starts his working life as a clerk in a bank. With a loan from a benefactor, he enters University College Galway, now National University of Ireland, Galway, at age 20 and continues his study with the benefit of scholarships. He serves as president of the student council and becomes involved with the Fianna Fáil party. Under the influence of politician Noël Browne, he soon switches allegiance to socialism and the Labour Party. An unashamed intellectual, Higgins continues his studies at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Manchester. Before beginning a career in politics, he lectures in sociology and political science at Galway and is a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Twice Higgins runs unsuccessfully for a seat in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, before being appointed to Seanad Éireann, the upper house, by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973. Higgins is then elected to represent Galway West in the Dáil (1981–82) and serves another term in the Seanad (1983–87), representing the National University of Ireland, before becoming a fixture in the Dáil in the seat for Galway West (1987–2011). He also serves two terms as the mayor of Galway (1982–83, 1991–92). Early on he earns a reputation as a leftist firebrand who opposes participation in coalition government. His radical commitment to human rights and to peace and justice in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, as well as his advocacy of progressive issues such as equal pay for women and the rights of people with disabilities, remain constant, but he mellows over the years to accept coalition rule.

In 1993, in the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government led by Albert Reynolds, Higgins becomes the minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht (the districts in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved). In that capacity he champions the Irish film industry and is responsible for the creation of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4). A poet who publishes four books of poetry before his election as president, Higgins earns a reputation as an impassioned and eloquent orator in both Irish and English.

By 2003, when he takes over the leadership of the Labour Party, the diminutive Higgins has become something of a national icon, known to most people simply as “Michael D.” He seeks Labour’s nomination for the presidency in 2004 unsuccessfully, but in 2011 he is elected the ninth president of Ireland with some 40 percent of the first-preference votes. In the process he bests heavily favoured independent Seán Gallagher, who stumbles badly in a televised debate just before the election, as well as Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who steps down temporarily as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to run.