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


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Death of Historian Thomas P. O’Neill

eamon-de-valera-biographyThomas P. O’Neill, Irish historian who wrote Éamon de Valera‘s official biography with Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, dies in Dublin on March 2, 1996.

Born in County Carlow, O’Neill is educated at St. Mary’s Knockbeg College and University College Dublin (UCD). While assistant keeper of the National Library of Ireland, he is asked to undertake the work on de Valera. Frank Gallagher, head of the Government Information Services and later a member of the library’s staff had been working on a biography for several years but dies in 1962 without completing the work.

De Valera knows of O’Neill’s reputation as a historian and asks him to undertake the project. A contract is signed with the publishers in 1963, and O’Neill moves to Áras an Uachtaráin to work on the book. He is later joined by Lord Longford as co-author.

O’Neill’s other works include a biography in Irish of James Fintan Lalor and a major study of the Great Famine, which establishes his reputation as a historian.

After the completion of the de Valera work, O’Neill is appointed lecturer and later professor of history in University College, Galway. On his retirement, he returns to live in Dublin, where he renews his association with the National Library, becoming a strong supporter of its expansion.

O’Neill continues historical research until shortly before his death. He discovers evidence that the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic was signed by the seven signatories at the home of the president of Cumann na mBan, Jennie Wyse Power, in Henry Street, Dublin, before the Easter Rising and not merely printed in Liberty Hall from an unsigned manuscript on Easter Sunday.

O’Neill is survived by his wife, Marie, and six children. His funeral Mass takes place at St. Joseph’s Church on March 5, followed by his interment at Shanganagh Cemetery.

(From: “Biographer of de Valera dies at 74,” The Irish Times, Monday, March 4, 1996)

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First Edition of the “Irish Press” Published

irish-press-may-25-1995The first edition of the Irish Press, a Dublin daily newspaper founded by Éamon de Valera as a platform for Fianna Fáil, is published on September 5, 1931.

Irish Press Ltd. is officially registered on September 4, 1928, three years before the paper is first published, to create a newspaper independent of the existing media where the Independent Newspapers group is seen as supporting Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael, and The Irish Times being pro-union, and with a mainly middle-class or Protestant readership.

The paper’s first issue is published on the eve of the 1931 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final between Cork and Kilkenny. Other newspapers do not cover GAA sports in any detail at the time. Margaret Pearse, the mother of Patrick and Willie Pearse, presses the button to start the printing presses. The initial aim of its publisher is to achieve a circulation of 100,000 which it quickly accomplishes. It goes on to list 200,000 subscribers at its peak.

The money to launch the Irish Press is raised in the United States during the Irish War of Independence by a bond drive to finance the First Dáil. Five million dollars is raised , however 60 percent of this money is left in various banks in New York City. No one knows why de Valera ordered the bulk of the money to be left in New York when he returned to Ireland in late 1920.

In 1927, as a result of legal action between the Irish Free State government and de Valera, a court in New York orders that the bond holders be paid back outstanding money due to them. However de Valera’s legal team has anticipated the ruling and has prepared for the outcome. A number of circulars are sent to the bond holders asking them to sign over their holdings to de Valera. The bond holders are paid 58 cents to the dollar. This money is then used as start up capital to launch the Irish Press. Following the 1933 Irish General Election, de Valera uses his Dáil Éireann majority to pass a measure allowing the bond holders to be paid the remaining 42 percent of the money still owed.

In December 1931, editor Frank Gallagher is prosecuted by an Irish Free State military tribunal for publishing articles alleging that Garda Síochána had mistreated the Anti-Treaty republicans of the Irish Free State government. This is facilitated by Amendment 17 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State and Gallagher is convicted and fined £50. An example of animosity from those who support Independent Newspapers and the Free State government is that the Irish Press is excluded from the special train which delivers newspapers from Dublin to the countryside. As a result, it is circulated throughout Ireland by a specially rented train.

The Irish Press sustains itself with its own resources until The Sunday Press is founded in 1949. In its heyday, the Irish Press has a number of first-rate reporters and columnists. One notable section, New Irish Writing is edited by David Marcus.

In the 1970s, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Conor Cruise O’Brien, tries to use and amend The Emergency Powers Act and Section 31 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, to censor coverage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Irish Press editor, Tim Pat Coogan, publishes editorials attacking the Bill. The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government tries to prosecute the Irish Press for its coverage of the maltreatment of republican prisoners by the Garda “Heavy Gang,” with the paper winning the case.

The Irish Press starts two further newspapers, the Evening Press (1954), and The Sunday Press. The Evening Press is aimed at an urban readership and achieves a daily circulation of 100,000. The new newspapers subsidise the Irish Press when its circulation sags. Its adoption of a tabloid format does not rescue its declining circulation.

The final issue of the Irish Press and Evening Press is on Thursday, May 25, 1995. The newspapers close because of a bizarre industrial dispute over the sacking of the group business editor, Colm Rapple. The group has not been in a healthy financial state for several years. When it eventually closes, with indebtedness of £20 million, 600 people lose their jobs.

(Pictured: Cover of last ever edition of the Irish Press from May 25, 1995)