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


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Birth of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Activist & Feminist

elizabeth-gurley-flynnElizabeth Gurley Flynn, labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7, 1890. She is a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

Flynn’s family moves to New York in 1900, where she is educated in the local public schools. She grows up being regaled by tales of Irish revolutionaries. According to their oral tradition all four of her great-grandfathers, Flynn, Gurley, Conneran, and Ryan, are members of the Society of United Irishmen, with grandfather Flynn being one of the leaders in County Mayo when the French fleet lands there during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Her parents introduce her to socialism. When she is only fifteen she gives her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club.

In 1907, Flynn becomes a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Over the next few years she organizes campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington and textile workers in Massachusetts. She is arrested ten times during this period but is never convicted of any criminal activity. It is a plea bargain, on the other hand, that results in her expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor.

A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn plays a leading role in the campaign against the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. She is particularly concerned with women’s rights, supporting birth control and women’s suffrage. She also criticizes the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.

Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lives in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and Wobbly Marie Equi where she is an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike. In 1936, she joins the Communist Party and writes a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she is elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party leads to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.

During World War II, Flynn plays an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. In 1942, she runs for the United States Congress at-large in New York and receives 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party are arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. After they are convicted in the Foley Square trial they appeal to the Supreme Court, which upholds their conviction in Dennis v. United States.

Flynn launches a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, is herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act. After a nine-month trial, she is found guilty and serves two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later writes a prison memoir, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.

After her release from prison, Flynn resumes her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She runs for the New York City Council as a Communist in 1957, garnering a total of 710 votes. She becomes national chairwoman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961 and makes several visits to the Soviet Union.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dies on September 5, 1964, while on one of her visits to the Soviet Union. The Soviet government gives her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, her remains are flown to the United States for burial in Chicago‘s German Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.

In 1978, the ACLU posthumously reinstates her membership.

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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.


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Birth of Author & Journalist Mary Kenny

mary-kennyMary Kenny, Irish author, broadcaster, playwright and journalist, is born in Dublin on April 4, 1944. She is a frequent columnist for the Irish Independent and is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM). She has modified the radical ideas of her past, but not rejected feminist principles.

Kenny grows up in Sandymount and is expelled from convent school at age 16. She begins working at the London Evening Standard in 1966 on the Londoner’s Diary, later as a general feature writer, and is woman’s editor of The Irish Press in the early 1970s.

Kenny is one of the founding members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. Although the group has no formal structure of officials, she is often seen as the “ring leader” of the group. In March 1971, as part of an action by the IWLM, she walks out of Haddington Road church after the Archbishop of Dublin‘s pastoral is read out from the pulpit, confirming that “any contraceptive act is always wrong,” saying “this is Church dictatorship.” In a follow-up letter to The Irish Times she explains her actions by saying Ian Paisley was right, “Home Rule is Rome Rule.”

In 1971, Kenny travels with Nell McCafferty, June Levine and other Irish feminists on the so-called “Contraceptive Train” from Dublin to Belfast to buy condoms, then illegal within the Republic of Ireland. Later that year she returns to London as Features Editor of the Evening Standard.

In 1973, Kenny is allegedly “disturbed in the arms of a former cabinet minister of President Obote of Uganda during a party,” which leads poet James Fenton to coin the euphemism “Ugandan discussions” to mean sexual intercourse. The phrase is first used by the magazine Private Eye on March 9, 1973, but has been widely used since then and is included by the BBC in a list of “The 10 most scandalous euphemisms” in 2013.

Kenny has written for many British and Irish broadsheet newspapers, including the Irish Independent, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and has authored books on William Joyce and Catholicism in Ireland. She also writes for the weekly The Irish Catholic. She is known in the UK as a Roman Catholic journalist. Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy (2009), is described by R.F. Foster as “characteristically breezy, racy and insightful.” She is author of the play Allegiance, in which Mel Smith plays Winston Churchill and Michael Fassbender plays Michael Collins, at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006.

Kenny marries journalist and writer Richard West in 1974 and the couple raises two children, Patrick West and Ed West, both journalists.


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Birth of Nell McCafferty, Journalist & Feminist

nell-mccaffertyNell McCafferty, Irish journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner and feminist, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on March 28, 1944. In her journalistic work she has written for The Irish Press, The Irish Times, Sunday Tribune, Hot Press and The Village Voice.

McCafferty is born to Hugh and Lily McCafferty, and spends her early years in the Bogside area of Derry. She is admitted to Queen’s University Belfast, where she takes a degree in Arts. After a brief spell as a substitute English teacher in Northern Ireland and a stint on an Israeli kibbutz, she takes up a post with The Irish Times.

McCafferty is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. Her journalistic writing on women and women’s rights reflect her beliefs on the status of women in Irish society. In 1971, she travels to Belfast with other members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in order to protest the prohibition of the importation and sale of contraceptives in the Republic of Ireland.

After the disintegration of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, McCafferty remains active in other women’s rights groups, as well as focusing her journalism on women’s rights. Her most notable work is her coverage of the Kerry Babies case, which is recorded in her book, A Woman to Blame. She contributes the piece “Coping with the womb and the border” to the 1984 anthology Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan.

In 1990, McCafferty wins a Jacob’s Award for her reports on the 1990 FIFA World Cup for RTÉ Radio 1‘s The Pat Kenny Show. She publishes her autobiography, Nell, in 2004. In it, she explores her upbringing in Derry, her relationship with her parents, her fears about being gay, the joy of finding a domestic haven with the love of her life, the Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain, and the pain of losing it.

In 2009, after the publication of the Murphy Report into the abuse of children in the Dublin archdiocese, McCafferty confronts Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asking him why the Catholic Church has not, as a “gesture of redemption,” relinquished titles such as “Your Eminence” and “Your Grace.”

McCafferty causes a controversy in 2010 with a declaration in a live Newstalk radio interview that the then Minister for Health, Mary Harney, is an alcoholic. This allegation leads to a court case in which Harney is awarded €450,000 the following year. McCafferty has very rarely been featured on live radio or television in Ireland as a commentator since the incident, despite being ever present in those media from 1990 forward. However, she has been featured on a number of recorded programs.

The Irish Times writes that “Nell’s distinctive voice, both written and spoken, has a powerful and provocative place in Irish society.”

McCafferty receives an honorary doctorate of literature from University College Cork on November 2, 2016 for “her unparalleled contribution to Irish public life over many decades and her powerful voice in movements that have had a transformative impact in Irish society, including the feminist movement, campaigns for civil rights and for the marginalised and victims of injustice.”

McCafferty lives in Ranelagh, an area of Dublin.