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


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Birth of Poet James Clarence Mangan

Mangan bustJames Clarence Mangan, Irish poet, is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


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Birth of John Lonergan, American Civil War Captain

john-lonerganJohn Lonergan, American Civil War captain and Medal of Honor winner, is born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary on April 7, 1839. Hailed as a hero in the American Civil War, he wins the award for his bravery during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Lonergan immigrates to the United States with his family in 1848. It is said that the Lonergans were on the run from the Great Famine, as well as British oppression. Settling in Vermont, he works alongside his father as a cooper.

In 1862, Lonergan forms a company of fellow Vermont Irishmen to volunteer to fight the Confederates. He does so with the mindset to gain more military skill to help the cause of Irish freedom. He is also leader of the Vermont branch of the Fenian Brotherhood, a forerunner to the Irish Republican Army.

Lonergan serves for the Union Army in two stages, 1862-1863 and 1865. Serving as the captain of Company A, 13th Vermont Infantry, his efforts on July 2, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg earn him the Medal of Honor, which cites him for “Gallantry in the recapture of four guns and the capture of two additional guns from the enemy; also the capture of a number of prisoners.”

Following his services in the Civil War, Lonergan helps organize a pair of failed raids into Canada from staging areas in St. Albans. The Fenians’ quixotic aim is to pressure Britain, which rules Canada as a colony, to surrender control of Ireland.

Lonergan dies in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on August 6, 1902. In 2013, a memorial is erected to him in Burlington, Vermont.


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Birth of James Augustine Healy, Bishop of Portland, Maine

james-augustine-healyJames Augustine Healy, American Roman Catholic priest and the second bishop of Portland, Maine, is born on April 6, 1830 in Macon, Georgia to a multiracial slave mother and Irish immigrant father. He is the first bishop in the United States of any known African descent. When he is ordained in 1854, his multiracial ancestry is not widely known outside his mentors in the Catholic Church.

Healy is the eldest of ten siblings of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish immigrant planter from County Roscommon, and his common law wife Eliza Smith (sometimes recorded as Clark), a multiracial enslaved African American. He achieves many “firsts” in United States history. He is credited with greatly expanding the Catholic church in Maine at a time of increased Irish immigration. He also serves Abenaki people and many parishioners of French Canadian descent who were traditionally Catholic. He speaks both English and French.

Beginning in 1837, like many other wealthy planters with mixed-race children, Michael Healy starts sending his sons to school in the North. James, along with brothers Hugh and Patrick, goes to Quaker schools in Flushing, New York, and Burlington, New Jersey. Later they each attend the newly opened College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He graduates as valedictorian of the college’s first graduating class in 1849.

Following graduation, Healy wishes to enter the priesthood. He cannot study at the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland, as it is a slave state. With the help of John Bernard Fitzpatrick, he enters a Sulpician seminary in Montreal. In 1852, he transfers to study at Saint-Sulpice Seminary in Paris, working toward a doctorate and a career as a seminary professor. After a change of heart, he decides to become a pastor. On June 10, 1854, he is ordained at Notre-Dame de Paris as a priest to serve in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the first African American to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest although at the time he identifies as and is accepted as white Irish Catholic.

When Healy returns to the United States, he becomes an assistant pastor in Boston. He serves the Archbishop, who helps establish his standing in the church. In 1866 he becomes the pastor of St. James Church, the largest Catholic congregation in Boston. In 1874 when the Boston legislature is considering taxation of churches, he defends Catholic institutions as vital organizations that help the state both socially and financially. He also condemns certain laws that are generally enforced only on Catholic institutions. He founds several Catholic charitable institutions to care for the many poor Irish immigrants who had arrived during the Great Famine years.

Healy’s success in the public sphere leads to his appointment by Pope Pius IX to the position of second bishop of Portland, Maine. He is consecrated as Bishop of Portland on June 2, 1875, becoming the first African American to be consecrated a Catholic bishop. For 25 years he governs his large diocese, supervising also the founding of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, when it is split from Portland in 1885. During his time in Maine, which is a period of extensive immigration from Catholic countries, he oversees the establishment of 60 new churches, 68 missions, 18 convents, and 18 schools. During that period, he also serves his Abenaki and French Canadian parishioners.

Healy is the only member of the American Catholic hierarchy to excommunicate men who joined the Knights of Labor, a national union, which reaches its peak of power in 1886.

Two months before his death on August 5, 1900, Healy is called as assistant to the Papal throne by Pope Leo XIII, a position in the Catholic hierarchy just below that of cardinal.


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The Doolough Tragedy

doolough-tragedy-memorialThe Doolough Tragedy is an event that took place during the Great Famine close to Doo Lough in southwest County Mayo.

On Friday, March 30, 1849 two officials of the Westport Poor Law Union arrive in Louisburgh to inspect those people in receipt of outdoor relief to verify that they should continue to receive it. The inspection, for some reason, does not take place and the two officials go on to Delphi Lodge, a hunting lodge, 19 kilometres (12 miles) south of Louisburgh where they intend to spend the night. The people who had gathered for the inspection, or later did so, are consequently instructed to appear at Delphi Lodge at 7:00 the following morning if they wish to continue receiving relief. For much of the night and day that follows seemingly hundreds of destitute and starving people have to undertake what for them, given their existing state of debilitation, is an extremely fatiguing journey, in very bad weather.

A letter-writer to The Mayo Constitution reports shortly afterwards that the bodies of seven people, including women and children, are subsequently discovered on the roadside between Delphi and Louisburgh overlooking the shores of Doo Lough and that nine more never reach their homes. Local folklore maintains the total number that perished because of the ordeals they had to endure is far higher.

A cross and an annual Famine Walk between Louisburgh and Doolough commemorates this event. The monument in Doolough valley has an inscription from Mahatma Gandhi: “How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?”

(Pictured: The memorial to the victims in Doolough valley, photo by Felix O, June 2009, CC BY-SA 2.0)


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Groundbreaking for the West Clare Railway

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CIE_F502_(17156275240).jpgCharles Stewart Parnell turns the first sod for the construction of the West Clare Railway (WCR) on January 27, 1885, although actual work on the line had begun in November 1884. The line is opened on July 2, 1887.

At the end of the Great Famine there is a new growth in local businesses. The British Government determines that an improved railway system is necessary to aid in the recovery of the West of Ireland. The West Clare Railway and the South Clare Railway are built by separate companies, but in practice the West Clare Railway operates the entire line. The lines meet at Milltown Malbay. In due course the entire line becomes known as the West Clare Railway.

The West Clare Railway originally operates in County Clare between 1887 and 1961. The 3-foot narrow gauge railway runs from the county town of Ennis, via numerous stopping points along the West Clare coast to two termini, at Kilrush and Kilkee, with the routes diverging at Moyasta Junction. The system is the last operating narrow gauge passenger system in Ireland and connects with the mainline rail system at Ennis, where a station still stands today for bus and train services to Limerick and Galway. Intermediate stops include Ennistymon, Lahinch and Milltown Malbay.

On 27 September 27, 1960, CIÉ gives notice of its intending closure with effect from February 1, 1961, despite the dieselisation of passenger services in 1952 and freight in 1953. CIÉ says that the West Clare is losing £23,000 per year, despite the considerable traffic it handles. In December 1960 it is announced that the line would close completely on January 1, 1961 although actual closure does not take place until January 31, 1961. CIÉ begins dismantling the line the following day.

A preservation society maintains a railway museum at Moyasta Junction station, and successfully re-opens a section of the railway as a passenger carrying heritage line with diesel traction in the 1990s, and with steam motive power from 2009.


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The Allihies Copper Mine Museum

engine-house-allihiesOn January 7, 2000, experts underline the important heritage value of a 19th Century relic that stands on the site of a disused copper mine. A conservation appeal is launched to safeguard a unique engine house at a mountain mine in the Beara peninsula. A rare surviving symbol of Cornish type mining technology, the structure is the primary surviving embodiment of a once thriving copper mining industry in Allihies, County Cork.

The industrial mines in Allihies date back to 1812, when they are first opened by John Puxley. Mining activity reaches its peak there in 1845, when the mines employ around 1,600 people, after which the mines suffer with the local area during the Great Famine. The mines are operational until 1962, when they are finally closed. Large Cornish engine houses are constructed around the mining site, ruins of which survive today. These are used to pump out water to allow for deeper mining, and to transport miners and equipment down shafts that go below sea level. The site still contains a number of engine houses, mining shafts and a church. These are constructed by and for the Cornish miners who are brought to the area in the 1800s to mine copper ore. Once the mine becomes unprofitable, many of the miners emigrate to Butte, Montana.

The Allihies Copper Mine Museum (ACMM) is housed in a renovated Methodist church dating from 1845. It is officially opened by President Mary McAleese on September 13, 2007, after ten years of work by the Allihies Mines Co-op, a group that is formed to preserve the history of the area and mining heritage in the Allihies area, supported by the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland.

The exhibitions cover all aspects of the history of copper mining in the area, from prehistoric times all the way up to the nineteenth century and the Industrial Revolution. The displays also cover the local geology and the social history of the mining heritage. The collections contain examples of mining equipment and tools from the various eras of activity. The exhibition space is also used to display artworks, with local artists such as Charles Tyrrell, Cormac Boydell, Rachel Parry and Tim Goulding exhibiting there.

(Pictured: Engine House, Allihies by John Gibson, view of the 1862 house for the 36″-cylinder beam engine that powered the man-engine and winder on Mountain Mine)