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


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The Execution of Tom Williams, IRA Volunteer

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vol._Tom_Williams.jpgThomas Joseph Williams, a volunteer in C Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged in the Crumlin Road Gaol on September 2, 1942 for his involvement in the killing of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer Patrick Murphy during the Northern campaign.

Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.

As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.

As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.

At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.

At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.

There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.

Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.

Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.

(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)

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Birth of Alfred Harmsworth, Newspaper Publisher

alfred-harmsworthAlfred Charles William Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, one of the most successful newspaper publishers in the history of the British press and a founder of popular modern journalism, is born on July 15, 1865 in Chapelizod, near Dublin.

After an impoverished childhood and a few attempts at making a quick fortune, young Harmsworth embarks on freelance journalism as a contributor to popular papers, rises to editorial positions, and starts a paper called Answers to Correspondents. After some difficulty in securing financial backing, he begins publication, soon shortening the name to Answers. As the paper gains public favour, he is joined by his brother Harold, whose financial ability and capacity for attracting advertising, combined with Alfred’s genius for sensing the public taste, make it a success. Answers is followed by many other inexpensive popular periodicals, chief among them Comic Cuts and Forget-Me-Not, for the new reading public of women. These form the basis for what becomes Amalgamated Press, the largest periodical-publishing empire in the world.

In 1894 Harmsworth enters the newspaper field, purchasing the nearly bankrupt London Evening News and transforming it into a popular newspaper with brief news reports, a daily story, and a column for women. Within a year circulation grows to 160,000 copies, and profits are substantial. Conceiving the idea of a chain of halfpenny morning papers in the provinces, he purchases two papers in Glasgow, Scotland, and merges them into the Glasgow Daily Record. He then decides to experiment with a popular national daily in London. The Daily Mail, first published on May 4, 1896, is a sensational success. Announced as “the penny newspaper for one halfpenny” and “the busy man’s daily journal,” it is exactly suited to the new reading public. All news stories and feature articles are kept short, and articles of interest to women, political and social gossip, and a serial story are made regular features. With its first issue, the Daily Mail establishes a world record in daily newspaper circulation, a lead it never loses during Harmsworth’s lifetime.

Next Harmsworth purchases the Weekly Dispatch when it is nearly bankrupt and transforms it into the Sunday Dispatch, the biggest-selling Sunday newspaper in the country. In 1903 he founds the Daily Mirror, which successfully exploits a new market as a picture paper, with a circulation rivaling that of the Daily Mail. He saves The Observer from extinction in 1905, the year in which he is made Baron Northcliffe. In 1908 he reaches the pinnacle of his career by securing control of The Times, which he transforms from a 19th-century relic into a modern newspaper.

Northcliffe’s contributions to the British effort in World War I begin with his early exposure in the Daily Mail of the British army’s shell shortage. His criticisms of Lord Kitchener arouse intense resentment in some quarters, but he also presses for the creation of a separate Ministry of Munitions and for the formation in 1915 of a wartime coalition government. For his service as head of the British war mission in the United States in 1917, he is created a viscount. He acts as the British government’s director of propaganda aimed at Germany and other enemy countries in 1918. By this time Northcliffe’s press empire appears to hold such power over public opinion that he tries unsuccessfully to influence the composition of Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s cabinet. Always unpredictable, he becomes the victim of a megalomania that damages his judgment and leads to the breakdown that precedes his death.

Harmsworth’s health declines during 1921 due mainly to a streptococcal infection. He goes on a world tour to revive himself, but it fails to do so. He dies of endocarditis in a hut on the roof of his London house on August 14, 1922, leaving three months’ pay to each of his six thousand employees. The viscountcy, barony, and baronetcy of Northcliffe become extinct upon his death. His body is buried at East Finchley Cemetery in North London.

Northcliffe’s success as a publisher rests on his instinctive understanding of the new reading public that had been created by compulsory education. Though he wants political power, the effect of his newspapers upon public affairs is generally considered to have been smaller than he believed. His influence lay rather in changing the direction of much of the press away from its traditional informative and interpretative role to that of the commercial exploiter and entertainer of mass publics.


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Birth of Painter Sir John Lavery

john-laverySir John Lavery, Irish painter best known for his portraits and wartime depictions, is born in Belfast on March 20, 1856.

Lavery attends Haldane Academy in Glasgow in the 1870s and the Académie Julian in Paris in the early 1880s. He returns to Glasgow and is associated with the Glasgow School. In 1888 he is commissioned to paint the state visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry. This launches his career as a society painter and he moves to London soon thereafter. In London he becomes friends with James McNeill Whistler and is clearly influenced by him.

Like William Orpen, Lavery is appointed an official artist in World War I. Ill-health, however, prevents him from travelling to the Western Front. A serious car crash during a Zeppelin bombing raid also keeps him from fulfilling this role as war artist. He remains in Britain and mostly paints boats, aeroplanes, and airships. During the war years he is a close friend of H.H. Asquith‘s family and spends time with them at their Sutton Courtenay Thames-side residence, painting their portraits and idyllic pictures like Summer on the River (Hugh Lane Gallery).

After the war Lavery is knighted and in 1921 he is elected to the Royal Academy of Arts.

During this time, he and his wife, Hazel, are tangentially involved in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They give the use of their London home to the Irish negotiators during the negotiations leading to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. After Michael Collins is assassinated, Lavery paints Michael Collins, Love of Ireland, now in the Hugh Lane Gallery. In 1929, Lavery makes substantial donations of his work to both the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery and in the 1930s he returns to Ireland. He receives honorary degrees from the University of Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast. He is also made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast. A long-standing member of Glasgow Art Club, Lavery exhibits at the club’s annual exhibitions, including its exhibition in 1939 in which his The Lake at Ranelagh is included.

Sir John Lavery dies of natural causes, at the age of 84, in Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny, County Kilkenny on January 10, 1941, and is interred in Putney Vale Cemetery.


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Birth of Sir Philip Crampton, Surgeon & Anatomist

philip-cramptonSir Philip Crampton, 1st Baronet, FRS, an eminent Irish surgeon and anatomist, is born in Dublin on June 7, 1777.

Crampton is the son of a dentist. He is a childhood friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the United Irishman, and a cousin, on his mother’s side, of Thomas Verner, Grand Master of the Orange Order. He joins the army when young and becomes an assistant surgeon. When he is appointed surgeon to the Meath Hospital in 1798 he is not yet fully qualified, and goes on to graduate in Glasgow in 1800. A few years later he also becomes assistant surgeon at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Dublin and also builds up a large private practice at his house in Dawson St. He joins Peter Harkan in teaching anatomy in private lectures, forming the first private school of anatomy and surgery in the city.

Crampton becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in Ireland for a treatise on the construction of eyes of birds, written in 1813. This is later published, with other writings, in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science.

In 1821, together with Sir Henry Marsh and Dr. Charles Johnston, Crompton founds the Pitt St. Institution, a children’s hospital in Pitt St. (now Balfe St.). This hospital is the first teaching children’s hospital in Ireland or Great Britain. The main objective of the hospital is to treat sick children in one of the poorest parts of Dublin, The Liberties.

Crompton resigns the chief-surgeoncy of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital when he is appointed surgeon-general to the forces in Ireland. He remains as consulting surgeon to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital and the Dublin Lying-In Hospital. He is three times president of the Dublin College of Surgeons and he is knighted in 1839.

Crompton is always interested in zoological science and plays an active part in founding the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland and is many times its president. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Sir Philip Crampton dies at his residence, 14 Merrion Square, in Dublin on June 10, 1858.

The Crampton Memorial, at the junction of College St. with Pearse St. and D’Olier St., is erected from the design of sculptor John Kirk in 1862. It is of a curious design, consisting of a bust above a fountain and surmounted by a cascade of metal foliage. As it is slowly falling apart, it is removed in 1959. James Joyce references the monument in his novel Ulysses when Leopold Bloom passes the monument and thinks, “Sir Philip Crampton’s memorial fountain bust. Who was he?”


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The Sinking of the PS Queen Victoria

ps-queen-victoriaPS Queen Victoria, a paddle steamer built for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company in 1838, hits the rocks near Howth, County Dublin in the early hours of February 15, 1853 with the loss of more than 80 passengers and crew.

Queen Victoria is built by Wilson shipbuilders of Glasgow, Scotland in 1838 for The City Of Dublin Steam Packet Company. She has a wooden hull, is 150 feet long and is powered by a two-cylinder steam engine.

The Queen Victoria leaves Liverpool on the night of February 14, 1853 with cargo and approximately 100 passengers. As it approaches the Irish coast at Howth it is hit by a snowstorm. It strikes Howth Head around 2:00 AM on February 15. The Captain backs the ship away from the Head in hopes of being able to navigate into the harbor. The damage to the ship is more extensive than the captain thinks and it quickly begins to fill with water. It drifts, dead in the water, and strikes below the Baily Lighthouse. It sinks 100 yards south of the lighthouse within 15 minutes of the second hit. Approximately 83 passengers and crew perish, including the Captain. One lifeboat, with 17 passengers, makes it to shore.

A subsequent Board of Trade inquiry blames the ship’s captain and first officer, as well as the lighthouse crew. A fog bell is supposed to have been installed in the lighthouse in 1846, seven years earlier, but is delayed due to costs of other construction projects. The bell is finally installed in April 1853, as a result of the Queen Victoria shipwreck and the subsequent inquiry.

At least one attempt to raise the ship is made afterwards, which fails, and the ship is salvaged where she lay. The wreck is still in place.

Members of the Marlin Sun Aqua Club, Dublin discover the wreck in 1983. They report their discovery to the authorities, and are in part responsible for having the first Underwater Preservation Order placed on a shipwreck in Irish waters. They also carry out the first underwater survey on such a wreck. The wreck is the first to be protected by The National Monuments Act (Historic Wreck), when the order is granted in 1984, thanks to representations made by Kevin Crothers, IUART, and the Maritime Institute of Ireland.

(Pictured: PS Queen Victoria’s shipwreck as depicted in The Nation)


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Sinking of the SS Tuscania

ss-tuscaniaThe SS Tuscania, a luxury liner of the Cunard Line subsidiary Anchor Line converted for troop use, is torpedoed and sunk on February 5, 1918 off Rathlin Island, north of Ireland by the German U-boat UB-77. The ship is transporting over 2,000 American troops to the war in Europe. Over 200 people lose their lives.

SS Tuscania carries passengers between New York City and Glasgow while in service with the Anchor Line, on a route that had previously been assigned to her sister ship SS Transylvania. She continues to run this route even as World War I breaks out in Europe in August 1914 and Germany initiates a submarine campaign against merchant shipping in waters near the United Kingdom.

SS Tuscania makes international headlines for rescuing passengers and crew from the burning Greek steamer SS Athinai on September 20, 1915. In 1916, SS Tuscania is refitted and pressed into service as a troopship. She makes the news again in March 1917 by evading a submarine and a suspected Imperial German Navy armed merchant cruiser.

On January 24, 1918, SS Tuscania departs Hoboken, New Jersey, with 384 crew members and 2,013 United States Army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, 1918, she turns south for the North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 sights SS Tuscania′s convoy during the day and stalks it until early evening. Under the cover of darkness at about 6:40 PM, the submarine′s commanding officer, Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Meyer, orders two torpedoes fired at SS Tuscania. The second of these strikes home, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. SS Tuscania sinks nearly three years to the day after her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. Approximately 210 of the troops and crew are lost, while many others are rescued by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon.

Three notable passengers who survive the sinking are British critic Sydney Brooks, Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and Harry Randall Truman who later dies in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The wreck of SS Tuscania lies between Scotland‘s Islay and Northern Ireland′s Rathlin Island, about 7 nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, at roughly 55.41°N 06.185°W in 328 feet of water.


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U2 & New Voices of Freedom at Madison Square Garden

Irish rock band U2 is joined by the New Voices of Freedom choir onstage at Madison Square Garden in New York City for a performance of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on September 28, 1987.

Dennis Bell, director of New York gospel choir The New Voices of Freedom, records a demo of a gospel version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” While in Glasgow, Scotland in late July during U2’s Joshua Tree Tour, Rob Partridge of Island Records plays the demo for the band. In late September, U2 rehearses with Bell’s choir in a Harlem church, and a few days later they perform the song together at U2’s Madison Square Garden concert.

Footage of the rehearsal is featured in the rockumentary Rattle and Hum, while the Madison Square Garden performance appears on the Rattle and Hum album, the band’s sixth studio album. After the church rehearsal, U2 walks around the Harlem neighbourhood where they come across blues duo Satan and Adam playing on the street. A 40-second clip of them playing their composition “Freedom for My People” appears on both the movie and the album.