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


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Liam Cosgrave Elected Taoiseach of Ireland

liam-cosgraveLiam Cosgrave is elected the sixth Taoiseach of Ireland on March 14, 1973. He serves in the position from March 1973 to July 1977.

Cosgrave is born on April 13, 1920 in Castleknock, County Dublin. His father, William Thomas Cosgrave, was the first President of the Executive Council and head of the government of the Irish Free State during the first 10 years of its existence (1922–32). The eldest son, he is educated at Synge Street CBS, Castleknock College, Dublin, studies law at King’s Inns, and is called to the Irish bar in 1943. In that same year he enters Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament), and he retains his seat until his retirement from politics in 1981.

In 1948, when the first inter-party government replaces Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil regime, which had been in power for the previous 16 years, Cosgrave becomes parliamentary secretary to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It is a short-lived administration, going out of power in 1951 after three years of rule. But in a second inter-party government (1954–57), he becomes Minister for External Affairs and leads the first Irish delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in 1956.

Cosgrave succeeds James Dillon as leader of the Fine Gael party in 1965. Eight years later, as leader of a coalition government in which Fine Gael combines forces with the Labour Party, he becomes Taoiseach. He and British Prime Minister Edward Heath are the main participants in the intergovernmental conference at Sunningdale in December 1973 that gives birth to Northern Ireland’s first, though short-lived, power-sharing executive (1973–74).

A devout Roman Catholic, Cosgrave is intensely conservative on social issues and shocks his cabinet colleagues by voting against his own government’s bill on liberalizing the sale of contraceptives in 1974. The National Coalition is defeated in the general election of June 1977, largely on the economic issues of inflation and unemployment.

In 1981, Cosgrave retires as Dáil Deputy for Dún Laoghaire to be replaced by his son, Liam T. Cosgrave. He reduces his involvement in public life but he makes occasional appearances and speeches. In October 2010 he attends the launch of The Reluctant Taoiseach, a book about former Taoiseach John A. Costello written by David McCullagh. He also appears in public for the Centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016, watching from a car as the military parade marches through Dublin. On May 8, 2016, in a joint appearance with the grandsons of Éamonn Ceannt and Cathal Brugha, he unveils a plaque commemorating the 1916 Rising at St. James’s Hospital, the former site of the South Dublin Union.

Liam Cosgrave dies on October 4, 2017 at the age of 97 of natural causes. He had been at Tallaght Hospital for several months prior to his death there. His funeral is held on October 7, 2017, after which he is interred alongside his father at Inchicore‘s Goldenbridge Cemetery.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says “Liam Cosgrave was someone who devoted his life to public service; a grateful country thanks and honours him for that and for always putting the nation first. Throughout his life he worked to protect and defend the democratic institutions of our State, and showed great courage and determination in doing so. He always believed in peaceful co-operation as the only way of achieving a genuine union between the people on this island, and in the 1970s he celebrated that this country had embarked, in his own words, ‘on a new career of progress and development in the context of Europe’. I had the honour on a few occasions to meet and be in the presence of Liam Cosgrave, and I was always struck by his commanding presence and great humility, which in him were complementary characteristics.”

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Cumann na mBan Rejects Anglo-Irish Treaty

cumann-na-mban

Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council), at the behest of Constance Markievicz, votes overwhelmingly to reject the Anglo-Irish Treaty on February 5, 1922. During the Irish Civil War, over 400 members of the movement are arrested by the Irish Free State Government.

Cumann na mBan is an Irish republican women’s paramilitary organisation formed in Dublin on April 2, 1914, merging with and dissolving Inghinidhe na hÉireann and, in 1916, it becomes an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Although it is otherwise an independent organisation, its executive is subordinate to that of the Volunteers.

On January 7, 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty is approved by the Second Dáil by a close vote of 64–57. On February 5 a convention is held to discuss this, and 419 Cumann na mBan members vote against as opposed to 63 in favour. In the ensuing Civil War, its members largely support the anti-Treaty Republican forces. Over 400 of its members are imprisoned by the forces of the Provisional government which becomes in December 1922 the Irish Free State. Some of those who support the Treaty change the name of their branches to Cumann na Saoirse, while others retain their name but give allegiance to the Free State Government.

Cumann na mBan continues to exist after the Treaty, forming (alongside Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Army, Fianna Éireann and other groups) part of the Irish republican milieu. The government of the Irish Free State bans the organisation in January 1923 and opens up Kilmainham Gaol as a detention prison for suspect women.

Its membership strength is adversely affected by the many splits in Irish republicanism, with sections of the membership resigning to join Fianna Fáil, Clann na Poblachta and other parties. Máire Comerford, a lifelong member from 1914, reflects in later years that it became a “greatly weakened organisation” that “gathered speed downhill” from the founding of Fianna Fáil in 1926.


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Ahern Meets Paisley in County Antrim

paisley-and-ahern-2008Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visits Ballymena on February 1, 2008 to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley in his County Antrim constituency. Paisley says the Taoiseach’s visit to north Antrim is a historic day, and Ahern says his visit is another tangible benefit of the ongoing peace process.

Ahern and Paisley discuss political and economic developments in Northern Ireland and increasing cross-Border co-operation. The Taoiseach says he is honoured to visit the north Antrim heartland of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader.

“I do not believe even a year back it could have been envisaged we would have been together here,” Ahern says. “It is an honour to be here with the First Minister to talk about progress.”

Paisley jokes that Ahern and his entourage had held a prayer meeting in their helicopter hoping that they would not be pelted with snowballs by him, a reference to his famous protest when former Taoiseach Seán Lemass visited Stormont in 1965.

When asked about welcoming the Fianna Fáil leader to his constituency Paisley quips, “What I am saying is he is in under my control. This is a good day for work. It is a good day for our province. It is a good day for the whole of Ireland because we need help from outside. We cannot live on our own.”

Ahern and Paisley meet again the following week at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM dinner where Paisley has been invited to be a guest speaker.

The engagement is the latest visit to the Republic by the DUP leader since the Assembly was restored in Stormont the previous May. The Taoiseach invites Paisley to the historic Battle of the Boyne battle site in County Louth in July where the DUP leader presents a 17th-century musket to Ahern.

In October 2007, Paisley addresses the Trinity College Historical Society in Dublin and also attends an event in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in the city in November.

(From The Irish Times, Friday, February 1, 2008)


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Birth of Eileen Christine Desmond, Labour Party Politician

eileen-desmondEileen Christine Desmond (née Harrington), Irish Labour Party politician who serves as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare from 1981 to 1982, is born in Kinsale, County Cork on December 29, 1932. She serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1969, 1973 to 1981 and 1981 to 1987. She serves as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Munster constituency from 1979 to 1984. She is a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1969 to 1973.

Harrington is educated locally at the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale, where she is one of only two girls in her class to sit the Leaving Certificate examination. Before entering politics she works as a civil servant with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She marries Dan Desmond in 1958.

Desmond is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election on March 10, 1965, due to the death of her husband who had been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 1948. Her victory in the Cork Mid constituency leads Taoiseach Seán Lemass to dissolve the 17th Dáil and call a general election. She is elected for the second time in a year, but loses her seat at the 1969 general election. However she is then elected to the 12th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, where she serves until her re-election to the 20th Dáil at the 1973 general election.

Desmond is elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European Parliament election for the Munster constituency. However her time in Europe is short-lived, as she returns to domestic politics when she is offered a position as Minister and the chance to impact upon national legislation. At the 1981 general election she switches her constituency to Cork South-Central. A Fine GaelLabour Party coalition comes to power and she is appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare.

Desmond’s cabinet appointment is historic, as she is only the second woman to be a member of cabinet since the foundation of the state in 1922, and the first in any Fine Gael or Labour Party cabinet. Countess Markievicz had held the cabinet post of Minister for Labour in the revolutionary First Dáil in 1919, but only one woman had held cabinet office after the foundation of the state, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Fianna Fáil who was appointed as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Desmond retires from full-time politics at the 1987 general election for health reasons. She dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005.


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Founding of the Progressive Democrats

progressive-democratsProgressive Democrats is founded on December 21, 1985 by Desmond O’Malley, Mary Harney, and politicians who had split from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The party is a member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR). Its youth wing is the Young Progressive Democrats.

The Progressive Democrats take liberal positions on divorce, contraception, and other social issues. The party also supports economic liberalisation, advocating measures such as lower taxation, fiscal conservatism, privatisation, and welfare reform. It enjoys an impressive début at the 1987 general election, winning 14 seats in Dáil Éireann and capturing almost 12 per cent of the popular vote to temporarily surpass the Labour Party as Ireland’s third-largest political party.

Although the Progressive Democrats never again win more than 10 seats in the Dáil, they form coalition governments with Fianna Fáil during the 26th Dáil (1989–92), the 28th Dáil (1997–2002), the 29th Dáil (2002–07) and the 30th Dáil (2007–09). These successive years as the government’s junior coalition partner gives the party an influence on Irish politics and economics disproportionate to its small size. In particular, the party has been credited with shaping the low-tax, pro-business environment that contributes to Ireland’s Celtic Tiger economic boom during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as blame for contributing to the subsequent Irish financial and economic crisis.

On November 8, 2008 the party begins the process of disbanding and is formally dissolved on November 20, 2009. The two Progressive Democrat politicians elected to the 30th Dáil, Mary Harney and Noel Grealish, continue to support the government as independent Teachta Dálas (TD), and Mary Harney also continues as Minister for Health and Children.


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)


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Birth of Albert Reynolds, Taoiseach & Fianna Fáil Leader

albert-reynoldsAlbert Reynolds, politician and businessman, is born in Rooskey, County Roscommon on November 3, 1932. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 2002, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1979 to 1981, Minister for Transport from 1980 to 1981, Minister for Industry and Energy from March 1982 to December 1982, Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1987 to 1988, Minister for Finance from 1988 to 1991, Leader of Fianna Fáil from 1992 to 1994 and as Taoiseach from 1992 to 1994.

Reynolds is educated at Summerhill College in County Sligo and works for a state transport company before succeeding at a variety of entrepreneurial ventures, including promoting dances and owning ballrooms, a pet-food factory, and newspapers. In 1974 he is elected to the Longford County Council as a member of Fianna Fáil. He enters Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1977 as a member representing the Longford-Westmeath parliamentary constituency and becomes Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey (1979–81). He is subsequently Minister of Industry and Commerce (1987–88) and Minister for Finance (1988–91) in Haughey’s third and fourth governments. He breaks with Haughey in December 1991 and succeeds him as leader of Fianna Fáil and as Taoiseach in February 1992.

The Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats coalition that Reynolds inherits breaks up in November 1992 but, after the general election later that month, he surprises many observers by forming a new coalition government with the Labour Party in January 1993. He plays a significant part in bringing about a ceasefire between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and unionist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland in 1994, but he is less effective in maintaining his governing coalition. When this government founders in November 1994, he resigns as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil, though he remains acting prime minister until a new government is formed the following month. He unsuccessfully seeks his party’s nomination as a candidate for the presidency of Ireland in 1997. He retires from public life in 2002.

In December 2013, it is revealed by his son that Reynolds is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Albert Reynolds dies on August 21, 2014. The last politician to visit him is John Major. His funeral is held at Church of the Sacred Heart, in Donnybrook on August 25, 2014. Attendees include President Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former British Prime Minister John Major, former Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader and Nobel Prize winner John Hume, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke. An unexpected visitor from overseas is the frail but vigorous Jean Kennedy Smith, former United States Ambassador to Ireland, who is the last surviving sibling of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Reynolds is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery with full military honours.