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


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Death of Boston Politician James Michael Curley

james-michael-curleyJames Michael Curley, American Democratic Party politician and one of the best known and most colourful big-city Democratic bosses, dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. He dominated Boston politics throughout the first half of the 20th century.

Curley’s father, Michael Curley, a juvenile petty criminal, leaves Oughterard, County Galway, at the age of fourteen. He settles in Roxbury, an Irish immigrant neighborhood in Boston.

Curley never forgets the needs of new immigrants, and he owes much of his political success to serving those needs in exchange for votes. He enters politics in 1899, winning a seat on the Boston common council. In 1904 he is imprisoned briefly for impersonating a friend at a civil service examination.

Curley serves in a succession of elective capacities—as a state legislator, alderman, city councilman, and U.S. representative—before winning the mayoralty in 1914, resigning his congressional seat to assume the municipal office.

Curley centralizes the powers of patronage in his own hands and distributes public-works jobs in such a way as to retain the loyalty and support of his working-class electoral base. As mayor, he nearly brings the city to bankruptcy by spending enormous sums on parks and hospitals to satisfy his various constituencies. He is a gifted orator and a resourceful political campaigner. He loses his bid for reelection in 1918, wins in 1922, loses in 1926, and wins again in 1930.

Unable to win a seat in the Massachusetts delegation to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in 1932, Curley contrives by means he never explains to be elected a delegate from Puerto Rico. He supports the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but national party leaders look upon the controversial Curley as something of an embarrassment. As governor of Massachusetts from 1935 to 1937, he spends New Deal funds lavishly on roads, bridges, and other public works programs. He is out of elective office from 1938 to 1942, during which period he loses bids for the United States Senate, mayor, and governor. He wins a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1942, however, and is reelected two years later. He follows with another tenure as mayor of Boston (1947–50) but spends five months of his term in federal prison following a conviction for mail fraud. President Harry S. Truman secures his release and, in 1950, grants him a full pardon.

Curley, who has foiled an attempt by the Republican Party to have him replaced while he is in prison, retires from politics after losing reelection bids in 1950 and 1954. His career inspires Edwin O’Connor’s popular novel The Last Hurrah (1956), and the next year Curley’s best-selling autobiography, I’d Do It Again, is published.

James Curley dies in Boston, Massachusetts on November 12, 1958. His death is followed by one of the largest funerals in the city’s history. He is interred in Old Calvary Cemetery.

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Birth of Joe Gilmore, Head Barman

joe-gilmoreJoe Gilmore, one of the longest running Head Barmen at the Savoy Hotel‘s American Bar, is born in Belfast on May 19, 1922.

The Gilmores own a popular tobacconist shop at the top of the Limestone Road, which remains in business through the Troubles until the mid-1990s. But Gilmore has plans to go places so, at the age of sixteen, he sets out with a friend for London.

His first job is packing rolls of wallpaper at a Sanderson’s factory before moving to a Lyons Corner House as a dish washer with the prospect of getting some decent dinners. He begins training as a barman at London’s La Coquille and The Olde Bell at Hurley, where a chance encounter serving a stylish couple sets the scene for the remarkable life that follows.

At the age of eighteen, Gilmore starts as a trainee barman at The American Bar in 1940 and is appointed Head Barman in 1955, a position he holds until he retires in 1976. Over his years as Head Barman, Gilmore invents numerous cocktails to mark special events and important guests, a longstanding tradition at the American Bar.

Gilmore has invented cocktails in honor of a number of royalty, politicians, and celebrities including the Prince of Wales, Prince William, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Prince Andrew, Sir Winston Churchill, and American Presidents Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon. He also invents cocktails to commemorate the first walk on the moon in 1969 by Neil Armstrong, and the American and Russian link-up in space in 1975.

In addition to serving five generations of royals at private receptions and parties, Gilmore has also served Errol Flynn, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grace Kelly, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Noël Coward, Agatha Christie, Alice Faye, Ingrid Bergman, Julie Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.

Gilmore never forgets his Irish roots or family, and never loses his soft Belfast accent. Joe Gilmore dies at the age of 93 on December 18, 2015. His funeral is arranged by A. France & Son, undertakers to Admiral Nelson and near-neighbours in Lamb Conduit Street for more than 50 years. The Savoy sends their senior management and bar staff in their smart white uniforms.


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Death of William Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan

william-joseph-donovanWilliam Joseph “Wild Bill” Donovan, a United States soldier, lawyer, intelligence officer, and diplomat, dies on February 8, 1959. Donovan is best remembered as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War II. He is also known as the “Father of American Intelligence” and the “Father of Central Intelligence.”

Of Irish descent, Donovan is born in Buffalo, New York, to first generation immigrants Anna Letitia “Tish” Donovan (née Lennon) of Ulster and Timothy P. Donovan of County Cork. His grandfather, Timothy O’Donovan, Sr., is from the town of Skibbereen, and marries Mary Mahoney, who belongs to a propertied family of substantial means who disapprove of him. They move first to Canada and then to New York, where their son Timothy, Jr., Donovan’s father, attempts to engage in a political career but with little success.

William attend St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before starring on the football team at Columbia University, where he earns the nickname “Wild Bill”, which remains with him for the rest of his life. He graduates from Columbia in 1905. He then attends and graduates from Columbia Law School, after which he becomes an influential Wall Street lawyer.

In 1912, Donovan forms and leads a troop of cavalry of the New York National Guard, which is mobilized in 1916 and serves on the U.S.-Mexico border during the American government’s campaign against Pancho Villa.

During World War I, Major Donovan organizes and leads the 1st battalion of the 165th Regiment of the 42nd Division. For his service near Landres-et-St. Georges, France, on October 14-15, 1918, he receives the Medal of Honor. By the end of the war he receives a promotion to colonel, as well as the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.

Donovan serves as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York from 1922 to 1924. Due to his energetic enforcement of Prohibition in the United States, there are a number of threats to assassinate him and to dynamite his home but he is not deterred. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge names Donovan to the United States Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as a deputy assistant to Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty. Donovan runs unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York (1922) and for Governor of New York (1932) as a Republican.

During the years between the world wars, Donovan earns the attention and friendship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although the two men were from opposing political parties, they were very similar in personality. In 1940 and 1941, Donovan traveled as an informal emissary to Britain, where he is urged by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Roosevelt to gauge Britain’s ability to withstand Germany’s aggression. During these trips Donovan meets with key officials in the British war effort, including Winston Churchill and the directors of Britain’s intelligence services. Donovan returns to the U.S. confident of Britain’s chances and enamored of the possibility of founding an American intelligence service modeled on that of the British.

On July 11, 1941, Donovan is named Coordinator of Information (COI) where he is to oversee America’s foreign intelligence organizations which, at the time are fragmented and isolated from each other. He is plagued over the course of the next year with jurisdictional battles as few of the leaders in the intelligence community are willing to part with any of their power. Nevertheless, Donovan begins to lay the groundwork for a centralized intelligence program.

In 1942, the COI becomes the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Donovan is returned to active duty in the U.S. Army. He is promoted to brigadier general in March 1943 and to major general in November 1944. Under his leadership the OSS eventually conducts successful espionage and sabotage operations in Europe and parts of Asia. By 1943, relations with the British are becoming increasingly strained, partly due to British concerns that OSS operations are sometimes regarded as ill-disciplined and irresponsibly managed. MI6 chief Stewart Menzies is extremely hostile towards the idea of OSS operations anywhere in the British Empire and categorically forbids them to operate within the U.K.

After the end of World War II and the death of President Roosevelt in early April 1945, Donovan’s political position is substantially weakened as he finds himself opposed by President Harry S. Truman, J. Edgar Hoover, and others. Truman disbands the OSS in September 1945 and Donovan returns to civilian life. Several departments of the OSS survive the dissolution and, less than two years later, the Central Intelligence Agency is founded.

Donovan does not have an official role in the newly formed CIA but he is instrumental in its formation. His opinions meet strong opposition from the State, War, and Navy Departments, as well as J. Edgar Hoover. President Truman is also unenthusiastic about some of Donovan’s arguments but he prevails and they are reflected in the National Security Act of 1947 and the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949.

After the end of the war ended, Donovan returns to his lifelong role as a lawyer and serves as special assistant to chief prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in Germany. On August 3, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower appoints Donovan Ambassador to Thailand and he serves in that capacity from September 4, 1953 until his resignation on August 21, 1954.

Donovan dies from complications of vascular dementia on February 8, 1959 at the age of 76, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower remarks, “What a man! We have lost the last hero.”