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


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Birth of Margaret Anna Cusack, Founder of Poor Clares Convent

margaret-anne-cusackMargaret Anna Cusack, founder of the first Poor Clares convent in the west of Ireland and a talented writer who publishes on the issues of social injustice, is born to an aristocratic family of English origin in Coolock, County Dublin on May 6, 1829. Her writings and actions focus on advocacy of women’s rights including equal pay, equal opportunity for education, and legal reform to give women control of their own property.

Cusack is raised in the Anglican church tradition until her conversion to Catholicism in 1858. She enters the Irish Poor Clare Sisters and is among the first group of Sisters sent to found the convent at Kenmare, County Kerry.

During the next 21 years, Cusack, now known as Sister Francis Clare, dedicates herself to writing. Her writings include a wide range of concerns including lives of the saints, local histories, biographies, books and pamphlets on social issues and letters to the press. As the “Nun of Kenmare” she writes on behalf of the liberation of women and children who are victims of oppression. Income from her books and from her famine relief fund is distributed throughout Ireland. While doing all she can to feed the hungry, at the same time she campaigns vigorously against the abuse of absentee landlords, lack of education for the poor and against a whole system of laws which degrade and oppress a section of society.

To broaden the scope of her work Cusack moves to Knock, County Mayo in 1881 with the idea of expanding the ministry of the Poor Clares. She starts an industrial school for young women and evening classes for daytime land-workers. Several women are attracted by this work and in 1884 she decides to found her own community, The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Continued conflict in Knock with Church leaders leads Cusack to seek support in England. Under Cardinal Henry Edward Manning and Bishop Edward Bagshawe, she receives approbation for the new religious order from Pope Leo XIII and the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace is founded in January, 1884, in the Diocese of Nottingham, England.

Later, Cusack travels to the United States to continue her work with immigrant Irish women but is immediately rebuked by Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York. Just at that time, New Jersey stretches out a hand of welcome and encouragement as Bishop Winand Wigger of the Archdiocese of Newark invites her to establish homes for young Irish working women there. Within a few years, however, she claims that because of Archbishop Corrigan’s criticism of her among bishops throughout the United States, the work of her new community can not continue as long as she remains with them.

Physically exhausted, sick and disillusioned with a patriarchal Church, Cusack withdraws from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and leaves behind the sisters she so dearly loved. She eventually returns to her friends in the Church of England. In later years, she keeps in contact with the Sisters and expresses a loving concern for them. She dies on June 5, 1899 and is buried in the cemetery reserved for the Church of England at Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England.

Cusack passes into obscurity for a long time until, as a result of the Second Vatican Council, religious orders are encouraged to review their roots and the intent of their founders. Since then there have been a number a studies on Cusack, such as Philomena McCarthy’s The Nun of Kenmare: The True Facts. With the rediscovery of the life and times of Cusack, she has been hailed as a feminist and a social reformer ahead of her time.

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Birth of Aubrey Thomas de Vere, Critic & Poet

aubrey-de-vereAubrey Thomas de Vere, a critic and poet who adapts early Gaelic tales, is born on January 10, 1814 at Curraghchase House, now in ruins at Curraghchase Forest ParkCurraghchase Forest Park, Kilcornan, County Limerick.

Hunt de Vere is the third son of Sir Aubrey de Vere, 2nd Baronet and his wife Mary Spring Rice, daughter of Stephen Edward Rice and Catherine Spring, of Mount Trenchard, County Limerick. He is a nephew of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon and a younger brother of Sir Stephen de Vere, 4th Baronet. His sister Ellen marries Robert O’Brien, the brother of William Smith O’Brien. In 1832, his father drops the original surname “Hunt” by royal licence, assuming the surname “de Vere.”

de Vere is strongly influenced by his friendship with the astronomer Sir William Rowan Hamilton through whom he comes to a knowledge and reverent admiration for William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is educated privately at home and in 1832 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he reads Immanuel Kant and Coleridge. Later he visits Oxford, Cambridge, and Rome, and comes under the potent influence of John Henry Newman. He is also a close friend of Henry Taylor.

The characteristics of de Vere’s poetry are high seriousness and a fine religious enthusiasm. His research in questions of faith leads him to the Roman Catholic Church where in 1851 he is received into the Church by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning in Avignon. In many of his poems, notably in the volume of sonnets called St. Peters Chains (1888), he makes rich additions to devotional verse. For a few years he holds a professorship, under Newman, in the Catholic University in Dublin.

In A Book of Irish VerseW. B. Yeats describes de Vere’s poetry as having “less architecture than the poetry of Ferguson and Allingham, and more meditation. Indeed, his few but ever memorable successes are enchanted islands in gray seas of stately impersonal reverie and description, which drift by and leave no definite recollection. One needs, perhaps, to perfectly enjoy him, a Dominican habit, a cloister, and a breviary.”

de Vere also visits the Lake Country of England, and stays under Wordsworth’s roof, which he calls the greatest honour of his life. His veneration for Wordsworth is singularly shown in later life, when he never omits a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of the poet until advanced age makes the journey impossible.

de Vere is of tall and slender physique, thoughtful and grave in character, of exceeding dignity and grace of manner, and retains his vigorous mental powers to a great age. According to Helen Grace Smith, he is one of the most profoundly intellectual poets of his time. His census return for 1901 lists his profession as “Author.”

Aubrey de Vere dies at Curraghchase on January 20, 1902, at the age of eighty-eight. As he never married, the name of de Vere at his death becomes extinct for the second time, and is assumed by his nephew.