seamus dubhghaill

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


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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Arrives in Ireland

joe-biden-michael-higginsVice President of the United States Joe Biden arrives in Ireland on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 for a six-day visit. He arrives with his brother and sister, his daughter and five grandchildren and is welcomed to Ireland by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan.

Biden then travels to Government Buildings where he is formally welcomed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Kenny says he hopes Biden enjoyed his visit and Biden says that he himself has visited Ireland several times privately, but never as vice president. He adds that he had promised his late son Beau that he would make a family trip to Ireland, “Unfortunately Beau didn’t make it, but we decided that we would bring the whole family.”

Biden, an Irish American, speaks of his great-grandfather who emigrated from Ireland, and he also speaks of the pride his family feels in their Irish heritage.

Kenny presents Biden with a hurley and a sliotar, to which the Vice President responds, “I have witnessed one game and I have one regret, that they don’t have this in the United States. I played American football and American baseball in high school and college, but this would have been … this is a dangerous game.”

Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Kenny in the evening and meets with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, the following day at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin‘s Phoenix Park. As he signs the visitors’ book, he paraphrases another famous Irish American, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who had visited the Republic of Ireland 53 years earlier. His written entry makes reference to a speech made to Dáil Éireann in June 1963, when Kennedy said “our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history.”

During his visit Biden visits County Mayo and County Louth, where his ancestors originated, in addition to several engagements in Dublin and a stop at Newgrange. He also arranges to fit in a round of golf with Kenny.

Biden speaks at an event at Trinity College, Dublin on the morning of Friday, June 24 and delivers a keynote address to an American Ireland Fund event in Dublin Castle in the evening. He addresses the Irish American experience, the shared heritage of the two nations, and the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.

On Saturday, June 25, Biden visits various locations in County Louth including the Kilwirra Cemetery and Newgrange in County Meath.

Biden returns to the United States following a lunch with Kenny on Sunday, June 26.

(Pictured: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden signing the visitor’s book as Irish President Michael D. Higgins look on at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin)

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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”


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The Funeral of Michael Collins

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is laid to rest in Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery on August 28, 1922.

Collins is shot and killed by anti-Treaty ambushers as his Free State Army convoy approaches Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads in County Cork, on August 22, 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass on August 28, 1922 takes place at Dublin’s St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. According to a report in The New York Times, the seven mile journey from the cathedral to his final resting place in Glasnevin Cemetery is lined with half a million mourners, almost one fifth of the country’s population at the time, and many of whom likely differed with him on his Treaty vote.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

In this vacuum, independent investigations and conspiracy theorists have put forward a number of suspects as having executed or ordered his death, including an anti-Treaty sharpshooter, members of his own escort, the British Secret Intelligence Service, or Éamon de Valera himself.

De Valera is alleged to have declared in 1966, “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.”

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. In 2009, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson gives the oration. In 2010, the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jnr. becomes the first Fianna Fáil person to give the oration. In 2012, on the 90th anniversary of the death of Collins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives the oration, the first serving head of government to do so. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery every year at Collins’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death.

RIP Big Fellow!


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Ireland Approves Same-Sex Marriage by Popular Vote

Ireland becomes the first nation in the world to approve same-sex marriage by a popular vote on May 23, 2015, sweeping aside the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in a resounding victory for the gay rights movement and placing the country at the vanguard of social change.

With the final ballots counted, the vote is 62.1% in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and 37.9% opposed. The turnout is large with more than 60% of the 3.2 million eligible voters casting ballots. Only one of the 43 districts, Roscommon-South Leitrim, votes the measure down.

With early vote counts suggesting a comfortable victory, crowds begin to fill the courtyard of Dublin Castle, a government complex that was once the center of British rule. By late morning, the leader of the opposition, David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, concedes the outcome on Twitter: “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done.”

Cheers break out among the crowd of supporters in the courtyard of Dublin Castle when Returning Officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile announces in the evening that the ballot has passed.

In recent history a vote such as this would have been unthinkable. Ireland decriminalizes homosexuality only in 1993, the church dominates the education system, and abortion remains illegal except when a mother’s life is at risk. But the influence of the church has waned amid scandals in recent years, while attitudes, particularly among the young, have shifted.

“Today Ireland made history,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says at a news conference, adding that “in the privacy of the ballot box, the people made a public statement.” He also adds, “This decision makes every citizen equal and I believe it will strengthen the institution of marriage.”

Alex White, the government’s Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, says, “This didn’t change Ireland — it confirmed the change. We can no longer be regarded as the authoritarian state we once might have been perceived to be. This marks the true separation of church and state.”

Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, says, “There are two Irelands, the elite Ireland and the hidden Ireland. And today the hidden Ireland spoke.”

Nick O’Connell, who is from a rural area in County Kilkenny, cradles a celebratory drink in a Dublin pub. He says he had been too afraid to come out as gay until his mid-20s. “Today I’m thinking of all those young people over the years who were bullied and committed suicide because of their sexuality. This vote was for them, too.” He adds, “This is different from other countries because it was the people who gave it to us, not a legislature.”


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Six Irish Students Killed in Berkeley Balcony Collapse

berkeley-balcony-collapseFive Irish J-1 visa students and one Irish-American die and seven others are injured in Berkeley, California, on June 16, 2015, after a fourth-floor balcony on which they are standing collapses. Thirteen people fall from the balcony and four are pronounced dead at the scene while two die later at the hospital.

One of the six killed is a dual Irish-American citizen, Ashley Donohoe, 22, of Rohnert Park, California. The other five are Olivia Burke (Donohue’s cousin), Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai ‘Nick’ Schuster, Lorcán Miller, and Eimear Walsh, all aged 21 and from Dublin.

In June 2015, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates promises a broad and wide ranging investigation into the cause of the accident with the likely cause being that the balcony of the building had not been constructed properly leading to the development of dry rot, leading to the balcony becoming structurally compromised. Overwhelming evidence points to dry rot as the cause of the collapse, and not the weight of the 13 students on it at the time.

The New York Times publishes an article reporting the deaths and suggesting the deceased are to blame for the collapse. The paper states that Irish students coming to the U.S. on J-1 visas are an “embarrassment to Ireland.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former President Mary McAleese criticise the newspaper for “being insensitive and inaccurate” in its handling of the story. The newspaper subsequently apologizes, although the article remains available at its website.

Alameda County prosecutors open up a criminal investigation on the accident on June 25. They state that involuntary manslaughter charges could be filed. Berkeley District Attorney Nancy O’Malley denies that pressure from the Irish community have led to the collapse inquiry.

On July 3, 2015, the Alameda County Superior Court rejects a restraining order bid against the examination of evidence by construction company Segue Builders. D.A. O’Malley had argued that the granting of a restraining order would amount to an interference in her duty to investigate the tragedy.

In December 2015, a court is told that the collapse happened because contractors cut corners to save costs. It is alleged that Greystar, the management company for the building, ignored a “red flag” when students who rented the apartment complained about the presence of mushrooms growing on the balcony. Legal cases by some of the victims are set to be combined and heard together sometime in 2016.

A joint funeral service for Olivia Burke and her cousin Ashley Donohoe takes place on June 20, four days after the collapse, in a church in Cotati, California. Funeral services are held in Dublin for the remaining victims.


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Execution of Thomas Kent

thomas-kentIrish nationalist Thomas Kent is executed at Cork Detention Barracks on May 9, 1916. Kent’s story is one of the stranger episodes that happens after the rebellion in Dublin has been quelled. Unlike the Dublin rebels, Kent does not go out to fight. Rather the British come to him looking for trouble.

Kent is part of a prominent nationalist family who lives at Bawnard House, Castlelyons, County Cork. After spending some time in Boston he returns to Ireland because of poor health. He is active in the Land League, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. With the launch of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, he is prominent with another legendary Cork man, Terence MacSwiney, in organizing and training recruits.

The Kent family is prepared to take part in the Easter Rising but when the mobilisation order is countermanded by Eoin MacNeill, commander of the Irish Volunteers, on April 22, they stay at home. The rising nevertheless goes ahead in Dublin on Easter Monday. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is dispatched to arrest well-known sympathizers throughout the country including, but not limited to, known members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Volunteers.

When the Kent residence is raided at 3:45 AM on May 2, the RIC is met with resistance from Thomas and his brothers Richard, David, and William. A gunfight lasts for four hours, during which RIC officer Head Constable William Rowe is killed and David Kent is seriously wounded. Eventually the Kents are forced to surrender, although Richard makes a last minute dash for freedom and is fatally wounded.

Thomas and William are tried by court martial on May 4 on a charge of “armed rebellion.” William, who is not political, is found innocent, but Thomas is found guilty in the death of Constable Rowe and is sentenced to death. Before being led out for his execution, Kent says, “I have done my duty as a soldier of Ireland and in a few moments I hope to see the face of God.” He is executed by firing squad in Cork in the early morning hours of May 9. David Kent is brought to Dublin where he is charged with the same offence, found guilty, and sentenced to death, but the sentence is commuted and he is sentenced to five years penal servitude.

Apart from the singular case of Roger Casement, Thomas Kent is the only person outside of Dublin to be executed for his role in the events surrounding Easter Week. He is buried on the grounds of Cork Prison, formerly the Military Detention Barracks at the rear of Collins Barracks, Cork. The former army married quarters at the rear of Collins Barracks are named in his honour.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offers a state funeral to the Kent family early in 2015 which they accept. Kent’s remains are exhumed from Cork prison in June 2015 after being buried for 99 years. The state funeral is held on September 18, 2015 at St. Nicholas’ Church in Castlelyons. Kent lay in state at Collins Barracks in Cork the day before. The requiem mass is attended by President Michael D. Higgins, with Enda Kenny delivering the graveside oration.