seamus dubhghaill

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

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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Death of Confederate General Joseph Finegan

Joseph Finegan, Irish-born American businessman and brigadier general for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, dies on October 29, 1885, in Rutledge, Florida.

Finegan is born November 17, 1814 at Clones, County Monaghan. He comes to Florida in the 1830s, first establishing a sawmill at Jacksonville and later a law practice at Fernandina Beach. At the latter place, he becomes the business partner of David Levy Yulee and begins construction of the Florida Railroad to speed transportation of goods and people from the new state’s east coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Finegan has built his family a forty-room mansion in Fernandina Beach at the site of the modern Atlantic Elementary School. At Florida’s secession convention, Finegan represents Nassau County alongside James Graham Cooper.

In April 1862, Finegan assumes command of Middle and East Florida from Brigadier General James H. Trapier. Soon thereafter, he suffers some embarrassment surrounding the wreck of the blockade runner Kate at Mosquito Inlet. Her cargo of rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, blankets, and shoes is plundered by civilians. Eventually, most of the rifles are found, but the other supplies are never recovered.

In 1863, Finegan complains of the large quantity of rum making its way from the West Indies into Florida. Smugglers are buying it in Cuba for a mere seventeen cents per gallon, only to sell it in the blockaded state for twenty-five dollars per gallon. He urges Governor John Milton to confiscate the “vile article” and destroy it before it can impact army and civilian morals.

In February 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard begins rushing reinforcements to Finegan after Confederate officials become aware of a build-up of Federal troops in the occupied city of Jacksonville. As Florida is a vital supply route and source of beef to the other southern states, they can not allow it to fall completely into Union hands.

On February 20, 1864, Finegan stops a Federal advance from Jacksonville under General Truman Seymour that is intent upon capturing the state capitol at Tallahassee. Their two armies clash at the Battle of Olustee, where Finegan’s men defeat the Union Army and force them to flee back beyond the St. Johns River. Critics have faulted Finegan for failing to exploit his victory by pursuing his retreating enemy, contenting himself by salvaging their arms and ammunition from the battlefield. However, his victory is one rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the dying Confederacy.

Finegan is relieved of his command over the state troops and replaced by Major General James Patton Anderson. This change in command is necessary as Finegan is ordered to lead the “Florida Brigade” in the Army of Northern Virginia, where he serves effectively until near the end of the war.

Finegan returns to Fernandina Beach after the war to discover his mansion has been seized by the Freedmen’s Bureau for use as an orphanage and school for black children. It took some legal wrangling, but he is eventually able to recover the property. The untimely death of his son Rutledge on April 4, 1871, precipitates a move to Savannah, Georgia. There, Finegan feels at home with the large Irish population and works as a cotton broker.

It is while living in Savannah that Finegan marries his second wife, the widow Lucy C. Alexander, a Tennessee belle. They eventually settle on a large orange grove in Orange County, Florida. Finegan dies on October 29, 1885, at Rutledge, Florida. According to The Florida Times-Union, his death is the result of “severe cold, inducing chills, to which he succumbed after brief illness.” He is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville.

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Birth of George Brent, Irish-Born Actor

george-brentGeorge Brent, Irish-born American stage, film, and television actor in American cinema, is born on March 15, 1904 in Ballinasloe, County Galway.

Brent was born George Patrick Nolan to John J. and Mary (née McGuinness) Nolan. His mother is a native of Clonfad, Moore, County Roscommon. During the Irish War of Independence, Brent is part of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He flees Ireland with a bounty set on his head by the British government, although he later claims only to have been a courier for guerrilla leader and tactician Michael Collins.

Brent arrives in the United States in 1921. Some time later he tours with a production of Abie’s Irish Rose. During the next five years, he acts in stock companies in Colorado, Rhode Island, Florida, and Massachusetts. In 1930, he appears on Broadway in Love, Honor, and Betray, alongside Clark Gable.

He eventually moves to Hollywood, and makes his first film, Under Suspicion, in 1930. Over the next two years, he appears in a number of minor films produced by Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox, before being signed to contract by Warner Bros. in 1932. He remains at Warner Bros. for the next 20 years, carving out a successful career as a top-flight leading man during the late 1930s and 1940s.

Highly regarded by Bette Davis, Brent becomes her most frequent male co-star, appearing with her in 13 films, including Front Page Woman (1935), Special Agent (1935), The Golden Arrow (1936), Jezebel (1938), The Old Maid (1939), Dark Victory (1939), and The Great Lie (1941). Brent also plays opposite Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street (1933), Greta Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934), Ginger Rogers in In Person (1935), Madeleine Carroll in The Case Against Mrs. Ames (1936), Jean Arthur in More Than a Secretary (1936), Myrna Loy in Stamboul Quest (1934) and The Rains Came (1939), Merle Oberon in ‘Til We Meet Again (1940), Ann Sheridan in Honeymoon for Three (1941), Joan Fontaine in The Affairs of Susan (1945), Barbara Stanwyck in So Big! (1932), The Purchase Price (1932), Baby Face (1933), The Gay Sisters (1942), and My Reputation (1946), Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946), Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase (1946), Lucille Ball in Lover Come Back (1946), and Yvonne De Carlo in Slave Girl (1947).

Brent drifts into “B” pictures from the late 1940s and retires from film in 1953. He continues to appear on television until 1960, having appeared on the religion anthology series, Crossroads. He is cast in the lead in the 1956 television series, Wire Service. In 1978, he makes one last film, the made-for-television production Born Again.

George Brent receives two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first, at 1709 Vine St., for his film contributions, the second star, at 1614 Vine St., for his work in television.

Brent is married five times: Helen Louise Campbell (1925–1927), Ruth Chatterton (1932–1934), Constance Worth (1937), Ann Sheridan (1942–1943), and Janet Michaels (1947-1974). His final marriage to Janet Michaels, a former model and dress designer, lasts 27 years until her death in 1974. They have a son and a daughter.

Brent also carries on a lengthy relationship with his frequent Warner Bros. co-star, actress Bette Davis, who describes her last meeting with Brent after many years of estrangement. He is suffering from advanced emphysema, and she expresses great sadness at his ill health and deterioration. George Brent dies on May 26, 1979 in Solana Beach, California.