seamus dubhghaill

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


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Annie Moore Becomes First Immigrant Processed Through Ellis Island

On January 1, 1892, Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish émigré from County Cork, becomes the first immigrant to the United States to pass through federal immigrant inspection at the Ellis Island station in New York Harbor.

Over 12 million immigrants are processed at the station that eventually closes in 1954. Third class and steerage passengers are processed at the Ellis Island station. First and Second class passengers are generally processed on the boats they arrive on as they are seen to be of lesser “risk.”

Moore arrives from County Cork aboard the Guion Line steamship Nevada in 1892. Her brothers, Anthony and Philip, who journey with her, have just turned 15 and 12, respectively. As the first person to pass inspection at the newly opened facility, she is presented with an American $10 gold piece from an American official.

Moore’s parents, Matthew and Julia, had come to the United States in 1888 and were living at 32 Monroe Street in Manhattan. Annie marries a son of German Catholic immigrants, Joseph Augustus Schayer (1876-1960), a salesman at Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market, with whom she has eleven children, five of whom survive to adulthood. The rest all die before the age of three.

Moore dies of heart failure on December 6, 1924 at age 47 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Her previously unmarked grave is identified in August 2006. On October 11, 2008, a dedication ceremony is held at Calvary which celebrates the unveiling of a marker for her grave, a Celtic cross made of Irish blue limestone.

A woman named “Annie Moore” who died near Fort Worth, Texas, in 1924 had long been thought to be the one whose arrival marked the beginning of Ellis Island. Further research, however, establishes that the Annie Moore in Texas was born in Illinois.

The Irish American Cultural Institute presents an annual Annie Moore Award “to an individual who has made significant contributions to the Irish and/or Irish American community and legacy.” She is also honored by two statues sculpted by Jeanne Rynhart. One stands at Cobh Heritage Centre (formerly Queenstown), her port of departure, and another at Ellis Island, her port of arrival. The image is meant to represent the millions who pass through Ellis Island in pursuit of the American dream.

(Pictured: Statue of Annie Moore and her brothers on the quayside in Cobh, County Cork)


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Birth of Michael Kelly Lawler, United States Army Officer

Michael Kelly Lawler, a volunteer militia soldier in the Black Hawk War (1831–32), an officer in the United States Army in both the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War, is born on November 16, 1814, in Monasterevin, County Kildare. As a brigadier general in the American Civil War, he commands a brigade of infantry in the Western Theater and serves in several battles.

Born to John Lawler and Elizabeth Kelly, they move to the United States four years later and settle initially in Frederick County, Maryland. In 1819, they move to rural Gallatin County, Illinois. On December 20, 1837 Lawler marries Elizabeth Crenshaw. He receives an appointment as a captain in the Mexican-American War and commands two companies in separate deployments to Mexico. He first leads a company from Shawneetown, Illinois that guards the supply route from Veracruz to General Winfield Scott‘s army. After the fall of Veracruz his company is discharged. He makes a visit to Washington after which he is asked by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford to organize a company of riflemen. He serves in the campaign to take Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

Lawler then returns to his farm in Illinois, where he is residing at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He establishes a thriving mercantile business, dealing in hardware, dry goods, and shoes. He studies law, passes his bar exam, and uses his legal license to help the claims of Mexican War veterans.

In May 1861 Lawler recruits the 18th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and is appointed as its first colonel. His time in command of the regiment in Kentucky and Tennessee is controversial and an “ordeal.” He is wounded during the Battle of Fort Donelson. In November 1862 he is commissioned as a brigadier general, and commands a brigade in the Second Division of the XIII Corps. He fights with distinction in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863. He leads his men in the battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and the May 22, 1863 general assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, where troops under his command are the only Union forces to enter the Confederate works at the Railroad Redoubt where they plant the United States flag.

Following the surrender of Jackson, Mississippi, the XIII Corps is split up and divided among other operations in the Western Theater. For the rest of the war, Lawler serves as commander of the 1st Division, XIII Corps in Louisiana in the Department of the Gulf, taking command of the division during the disastrous Red River campaign and leading it on an expedition in June 1864 to secure a crossing of the Atchafalaya River used by Confederate forces.

In the omnibus promotions at the end of the American Civil War, Lawler receives a promotion for distinguished service to major general in the Union army backdated from March 13, 1865. After mustering out of the army in 1866, he returns home and resumes his legal practice and farming near Shawneetown, Illinois.

Lawler dies in Shawneetown on July 22, 1882 and is buried in the Lawler Family Cemetery near Equality, Illinois, at the rear of the Old Slave House property.

A memorial to Lawler stands in Equality, Illinois. He also is honored with a marble bust in Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Chicago renames a street to Lawler Avenue in his memory.


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Death of James A. Mulligan, Union Army Colonel

James Adelbert Mulligan, a colonel of the 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War, dies on July 26, 1864 of wounds sustains at the Second Battle of Kernstown three days earlier.

Mulligan is born on June 30, 1830 in Utica, New York. His parents had immigrated from Ireland and his father died when he was a child. His mother remarries a Michael Lantry of Chicago, Illinois, and moves there with her son, who later attends the St. Mary’s on the Lake College of North Chicago. From 1852–54 he reads law in the offices of Isaac N. Arnold, U.S. Representative from the city. He is admitted to the bar in 1856, and commissioned a second lieutenant in the “Chicago Shield Guards.”

At the onset of the American Civil War, Mulligan raises the 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiment in 1861, which is locally known as the “Irish Brigade” (not to be confused with a New York unit by the same name). This unit includes the Chicago Shield Guards. In September 1861, he leads his troops toward Lexington, Missouri, as word had been received that this vital river town will be attacked by the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard under Major General Sterling Price.

The First Battle of Lexington, often referred to as the Battle of the Hemp Bales, commences on September 13, 1861, when 12,500 soldiers of the Missouri State Guard begin a siege of Mulligan’s diminutive command, entrenched around the town’s old Masonic College. On September 18, Price’s army mounts an all-out assault on Mulligan’s works, which fails. Cannon fire continues through September 19. On the 20th, units of Price’s army use hemp bales soaked in the Missouri River as a moving breastworks to work their way up the river bluffs toward Mulligan’s headquarters. By 2:00 PM, Mulligan has surrendered. Combined casualties are 64 dead, and 192 wounded. Price is reportedly so impressed by Mulligan’s demeanor and conduct during and after the battle that he offers him his own horse and buggy, and orders him safely escorted to Union lines.

Mulligan is commander of Camp Douglas, a prisoner of war camp in Chicago, from February 25, 1862 to June 14, 1862. The camp had been constructed as a short term training camp for Union soldiers but is converted to a prisoner of war camp for captured Confederate soldiers after the fall of Fort Donelson.

Mulligan and his regiment are assigned to the Railroad Division of the Middle Department between December 17, 1862 and March 27, 1863. Then they are assigned to 5th Brigade, 1st Division, VIII Corps in the Middle Department between March 27, 1863 and June 26, 1863.

Between August and December 1863, Mulligan oversees the construction of Fort Mulligan, an earthworks fortification located in Grant County, West Virginia. This fort remains one of the best-preserved Civil War fortifications in West Virginia, and has become a local tourist attraction.

On July 3, 1864, only three weeks before his death, Mulligan distinguishes himself in the Battle of Leetown, fought in and around Leetown, Virginia. Federal troops are retreating in the face of Major General Jubal Early‘s relentless Confederate advance down the Shenandoah Valley during the Second Valley Campaign. Hoping to buy time to concentrate Union forces and supplies, Major General Franz Sigel orders him to hold Leetown for as long as possible and then conduct a fighting retreat as slowly as possible to cover the other withdrawing Union units. He manages to hold Leetown for the entire day before being compelled to retreat, albeit very slowly. He continues to battle Early’s troops all the way from Leetown to Martinsburg, West Virginia, buying valuable time for Union commanders to concentrate their forces in the Valley.

On July 24, 1864, Mulligan leads his troops into the Second Battle of Kernstown, near Winchester, Virginia. Late in the afternoon, Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate force attacks Mulligan’s 1,800 soldiers from ground beyond Opequon Church. Mulligan briefly holds off Gordon’s units, but Confederate Major General John C. Breckinridge leads a devastating flank attack against the Irishmen from the east side of the Valley Pike. Sharpshooters then attack his right flank from the west. Now encompassed on three sides, the Union battle line falls apart.

With Confederates closing from all around, Mulligan orders his troops to withdraw. As he stands up in his saddle to spur his men on, Confederate sharpshooters concealed in a nearby stream bed manage to hit the Union commander. His soldiers endeavor to carry him to safety, but the unyielding Confederate fire make this an impossible task. He is well aware of his situation, and the danger his men are in, and so he famously orders, “Lay me down and save the flag.” His men reluctantly comply. Confederate soldiers capture him, and carry the mortally wounded colonel into a nearby home, where he dies two days later on July 26, 1864. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Evanston, Illinois.

On February 20, 1865, the United States Senate confirms the posthumous appointment of Mulligan to the rank of brevet brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers to rank from July 23, 1864, the day before he is mortally wounded at the Second Battle of Kernstown.


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Death of Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan, Poet & Priest

Abram Joseph Ryan, Irish American poet, active proponent of the Confederate States of America, and a Catholic priest, dies in Louisville, Kentucky on April 22, 1886. He has been called the “Poet-Priest of the South” and, less frequently, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.”

Ryan is born Matthew Abraham Ryan in Hagerstown, Maryland on February 5, 1838, the fourth child of Irish immigrants Matthew Ryan and his wife, Mary Coughlin, both of Clogheen, County Tipperary, and their first to be born in the United States.

In 1840 the family relocates to Ralls County, Missouri, and then, in 1846, to St. Louis, where the father opens a general store. Ryan is educated at St. Joseph’s Academy, run by the De La Salle Brothers. Showing a strong inclination to piety, he is encouraged by his mother and teachers to consider becoming a priest. He decides to test a calling to the priesthood and on September 16, 1851, at the age of 13, enters the College of St. Mary’s of the Barrens, near Perryville, Missouri, a minor seminary for young candidates for the priesthood. By the time of his graduation in 1855, he has decided to pursue Holy Orders.

Ryan then enters the Vincentians, taking the oath of obedience to the Congregation. He does three more years of study at the college during the course of which, on June 19, 1857, he receives minor orders. In 1858, shortly after the death of his father, he is sent to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels near Niagara Falls, New York.

As a Southerner, Ryan feels out of place at the seminary, and soon begins to express his opposition to the abolitionist movement then gaining popularity in the Northeastern United States. He then joins in the sentiment expressed by the Catholic bishops and editors of the nation in that period, who feel threatened by the anti-Catholic opinions expressed by the leadership of the Abolitionists. His writings in that period begin to express suspicion of Northern goals. Possibly for that reason, he is sent back to St. Mary of the Barrens.

During the winter of 1860, Ryan gives a lecture series through which he starts to gain notice as a speaker. His abilities as a preacher gain wide approval, and his superiors decide to have him ordained a priest earlier than is the normal age under church law. On September 12, 1860, he is ordained a priest at his home parish in St. Louis, with the ordination being performed by the Bishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

In the Fall of 1861, soon after the start of the American Civil War, Ryan is transferred back to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in New York. After a couple of bouts of illness, he declares himself fit to teach again in April 1862, but his superiors instead transfer him to parish duties in LaSalle, Illinois. After arriving there, he realizes that he will not be able to express his strong views in support of the Confederacy. Frustrated, and feeling ignored by his immediate superior, he requests his release from his oath of obedience. Upon his release he returns home, where he and his brother David intend to enlist in the Confederate States Army.

Ryan makes sporadic early appearances as a freelance chaplain among Confederate troops from Louisiana and begins making appearances in Tennessee in 1862. He begins full-time pastoral duties in Tennessee in late 1863 or early 1864. Though he never formally joins the Confederate Army, he clearly is serving as a freelance chaplain by the last two years of the conflict, with possible appearances at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, and well-authenticated service at the Battle of Franklin and the subsequent Battle of Nashville. Some of his most moving poems —”In Memoriam” and “In Memory of My Brother”— come in response to his brother’s death, who died while serving in uniform for the Confederacy in April 1863, likely from injuries suffered during fighting near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

On June 24, 1865, Ryan’s most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner,” appears in the pages of the New York Freeman’s Journal over his early pen-name “Moina.” Starting in 1865, he moves from parish to parish throughout the South. Beginning in November 1881 he spends a year in semi-retirement at Biloxi, Mississippi while completing his second book, A Crown for Our Queen. In Augusta, Georgia, he founds The Banner of the South, a religious and political weekly in which he republishes much of his early poetry, along with poetry by fellow-southerners James Ryder Randall, Paul Hamilton Hayne, and Sidney Lanier, as well as an early story by Mark Twain.

In 1879, Ryan’s work is gathered into a collected volume of verse, first titled Father Ryan’s Poems and subsequently republished in 1880 as Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. His collection sells remarkably well for the next half-century. His work also finds a popular following in his family’s ancestral home of Ireland. An article about his work appears in Irish Monthly during his life, and a decade after his death, yet another collection of his poetry is published in Dublin by The Talbot Press under the title Selected Poems of Father Abram Ryan.

In 1880 Ryan’s old restlessness returns, and he heads north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He dies April 22, 1886, at a Franciscan friary in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body is returned to St. Mary’s in Mobile, Alabama for burial. He is interred in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window is placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launches a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it includes a stanza from “The Conquered Banner” below an inscription that reads: “Poet, Patriot, and Priest.”


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The Long Count Fight

In a battle of Irish Americans, the Long Count Fight, or the Battle of the Long Count, a ten-round professional boxing rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey takes place at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 22, 1927.

“Long Count” is applied to the fight because when Tunney is knocked down in the seventh round the count is delayed due to Dempsey’s failure to go to and remain in a neutral corner. Whether this “long count” actually affects the outcome remains a subject of debate. Tunney ultimately wins the bout in a unanimous decision.

Just 364 days earlier, on September 23, 1926 at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tunney beats Dempsey in a ten-round unanimous decision to claim the world heavyweight title. This first fight between Tunney and Dempsey is moved out of Chicago because Dempsey learned that Al Capone is a big fan of his, and he does not want Capone to be involved in the fight. Capone reportedly bets $50,000 on Dempsey for the rematch, which fuels false rumors of a fix. Dempsey is favored by odds makers in both fights, largely because of public betting which heavily tilts towards Dempsey.

The rematch held at Chicago’s Soldier Field draws a gate of $2,658,660 (approximately $22 million in today’s dollars). It is the first $2 million gate in entertainment history.

Despite the fact that Tunney had won the first fight by a wide margin on the scorecards, the prospect of a second bout creates tremendous public interest. Dempsey is one of the so-called “big five” sports legends of the 1920s and it is widely rumored that he had refused to participate in the military during World War I. He actually had attempted to enlist in the Army, but had been turned down. A jury later exonerates Dempsey of draft evasion. Tunney, who enjoys literature and the arts, is a former member of the United States Marine Corps. His nickname is The Fighting Marine.

The fight takes place under new rules regarding knockdowns: the fallen fighter has ten seconds to rise to his feet under his own power, after his opponent moves to a neutral corner (i.e., one with no trainers). The new rule, which is not yet universal, is asked to be put into use during the fight by the Dempsey camp, who had requested it during negotiations. Dempsey, in the final days of training prior to the rematch, apparently ignores the setting of these new rules. Also, the fight is staged inside a 20-foot ring, which favors the boxer with superior footwork, in this case Tunney. Dempsey likes to crowd his opponents, and normally fights in a 16-foot ring that offers less space to maneuver.

To this day boxing fans argue over whether Dempsey could or should have won the fight. What is not in dispute is that the public’s affection for Dempsey grew in the wake of his two losses to Tunney. “In defeat, he gained more stature,” wrote The Washington Post‘s Shirley Povich. “He was the loser in the battle of the long count, yet the hero.”

Tunney said that he had picked up the referee’s count at “two,” and could have gotten up at any point after that, preferring to wait until “nine” for obvious tactical reasons. Dempsey said, “I have no reason not to believe him. Gene’s a great guy.”

Dempsey later joins the United States Coast Guard, and he and Tunney become good friends who visit each other frequently. Tunney and Dempsey are both members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In March 2011, the family of Gene Tunney donates the gloves he wore in the fight to the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of American History.


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Birth of James Graham Fair, Mining Tycoon & U.S. Senator

james-graham-fair

James Graham Fair, banker, mining tycoon, and United States Senator from Nevada, is born in Clogher, County Tyrone on December 3, 1831. He is credited with discovering the Big Bonanza, one of the richest pockets of gold and silver on the Comstock Lode.

Born in what is now Northern Ireland in 1831 to Scotch-Irish parents, Fair immigrates with his family to the United States when he is a boy and grows up on a farm in Illinois. Following the 1849 California Gold Rush, he travels to California. He earns a reputation for understanding ore bodies, inspiring his eventual employment as superintendent of various mines.

The 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada provides Fair with new opportunities. In 1865, he becomes superintendent of the prestigious Ophir Mine. Two years later, the Hale and Norcross Mine in Virginia City hire him as assistant superintendent, but the owners dismiss him within a year for unclear reasons.

While at the Hale and Norcross, Fair meets John William Mackay, whose success at the Kentuck Mine made him a millionaire. The two Irish immigrants recognize common interests and form an alliance. Mackay gives Fair the position of superintendent of the Rising Star Mine in Idaho, a property he had recently acquired. The venture proves unsuccessful, but it solidifies a working relationship between the two.

Fair works quietly with Mackay and investors James C. Flood and William S. O’Brien to obtain control of the Hale and Norcross Mine. Fair turns it to profit with better management. He and Mackay combine their expertise to acquire and explore other claims. In 1873, largely through Fair’s persistent search in the Consolidated California and Virginia Mine, the partnership discovers the famed Big Bonanza, one of the richest ore bodies in history. Fair and the others become extremely wealthy. He uses his assets to defeat the incumbent William Sharon for a seat in the United States Senate, which he holds in an undistinguished way from 1881-1887 as a Democrat.

Fair develops real estate in San Francisco and acquires mining property outside Nevada. Theresa Fair, his wife, is respected in Virginia City for donations to causes including those of the Catholic Church and the Daughters of Charity. When she divorces her husband in 1883 for habitual adultery, national public opinion turns against the senator. During his bid for reelection, he finds little support. Even Mackay fails to come to his aid, and he easily loses his seat to William Morris Stewart in 1887. He then moves back to San Francisco.

James Fair dies on December 28, 1894 in San Francisco of diabetes mellitus at the age of 63. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.


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Birth of Mike Donovan, Middleweight Boxer

professor-mike-donovanMike Donovan, middleweight boxer of the bare-knuckle era also known as Professor Mike Donovan and Mike O’Donovan, is born in Chicago, Illinois on September 27, 1847 to Irish-born parents. He later becomes one of the foremost teachers of the sport.

The first of many memorable events in Donovan’s life comes when he fights for the Union Army in the American Civil War, serving in William Tecumseh Sherman‘s army in its march through Georgia. After the war, he begins a boxing career that associates him with some of the best-known people of his age, in and out of the ring.

In 1868, Donovan defeats John Shanssey in a bout in Cheyenne, Wyoming, refereed by famous Western lawman Wyatt Earp. He wins the middleweight title in 1887 in San Francisco. He also fights the most famous Irish boxing champion in history, John L. Sullivan, fighting two four-round fights with him in 1880 and 1881.

After his active boxing career ends, Donovan becomes a boxing instructor at the New York Athletic Club and works with several famous Irish fighters. He is in Jake Kilrain‘s corner when he loses to John L. Sullivan in the last bare-knuckle heavyweight championship fight, and also helps James Corbett when he defeats Sullivan for the title in 1892.

Donovan spars with President Theodore Roosevelt, who loves boxing, on several occasions. He earns the sobriquet “Professor” for his scientific approach to his own career and in his later teaching of the sport. The “Professor” leaves a legacy, as well. His son Arthur is a famous boxing referee in the 1930s and 1940s and is enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame along with the “Professor,” the only father-son combination so honored. His grandson, also Art, plays for the Baltimore Colts in the National Football League and is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Donovan dies on March 24, 1918 at St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx, New York from complications from a bout with pneumonia he develops while teaching a boxing class. He is survived by his wife, Cecilia, and eight children, all who are at his bedside when he dies. After his death, his will indicates that his last name is actually O’Donovan.

Donovan’s silver championship belt is bequeathed to his son, Arthur, who at the time is serving in the United States Army, in the 105th Field Artillery at Spartanburg, South Carolina, during World War I.

Donovan is elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York in 1998.


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.


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Founding of the Irish Emigrant Society

An illustration from The Weekly Herald, 1845.The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in New York City on March 22, 1841.

The Irish and other emigrants face numerous abuses such as “illusive advertisements,” “crooked contractors,” “dishonest prospectuses” and “remittent sharpers” when they arrive in the United States. The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in 1841 by a group of New York Irish to combat issues such as these.

In December 1848 the Emigrant Society advises emigrants that as soon as their ship comes into harbour she will be boarded by an agent of the Society who will offer them sound and honest advice. In addition they warn that the ship will also be boarded by a large number of “runners” – conmen who will make it their business to attract them to the boarding houses that employ them. Emigrants are instructed be careful not to accept help from them as their ploy is to promise good quality board at low prices, but when they come to leave the house an exorbitant fee will be demanded. They will threaten not to hand over luggage unless this fee is paid and violent scenes might often ensue.

The Society warns that many persons, some of Irish birth, have set up offices in the city where they claim to be agents for railroad and steamboat enterprises. These crooks sell tickets which appear to entitle the holder to travel to specific destinations but which are worthless. To protect emigrants from such frauds, various measures are introduced in New York in 1848 including the construction of reception centres and the licensing of steam boats to take emigrants from the quarantine to the landing piers. Boarding houses are also required to display their prices in English, Dutch, German, Welsh and French.

Emigrants who survive the ordeal of the crossing are faced with the decision of where to settle in America. Newspapers carry advertisements singing the praises of the land and climate of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan but never mention the backbreaking work of clearing the land for farming. California also proves to be a very popular destination when news of the California Gold Rush breaks in 1849. It also provides opportunities on the lands that the Native Americans have deserted in search of gold.

(From: “1841 – The Irish Emigrant Society Is Founded In New York,” Stair na hÉireann, https://stairnaheireann.net


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Birth of Francis O,Neill, Music Collector & Police Officer

francis-oneillFrancis O’Neill, Irish-born American police officer and collector of Irish traditional music, is born in Tralibane, near Bantry, County Cork on August 28, 1848. His biographer Nicholas Carolan refers to him as “the greatest individual influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century.”

At an early age O’Neill hears the music of local musicians, among them Peter Hagarty, Cormac Murphy and Timothy Dowling. At the age of 16, he becomes a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel. On a voyage to New York, he meets Anna Rogers, a young emigrant whom he later marries in Bloomington, Illinois. The O’Neills move to Chicago, and in 1873 he becomes a policeman with the Chicago Police Department. He rises through the ranks quickly, eventually serving as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905. He has the rare distinction, in a time when political “pull” counts for more than competence, of being re-appointed twice to the position by two different mayors.

O’Neill is a flautist, fiddler and piper and is part of the vibrant Irish community in Chicago at the time. During his time as chief, he recruits many traditional Irish musicians into the police force, including Patrick O’Mahony, James O’Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. He also collects tunes from some of the major performers of the time including Patsy Touhey, who regularly sends him wax cylinders and visits him in Chicago. He also collects tunes from a wide variety of printed sources.

O’Neill retires from the police force in 1905. After that, he devotes much of his energy to publishing the music he has collected. He dies in Chicago, at the age of 87, on January 28, 1936.

In 2000, a life-size monument of Francis O’Neill playing a flute is unveiled next to the O’Neill family homestead in Tralibane, County Cork. The monument, and a commemorative wall are erected through the efforts of the Captain Francis O’Neill Memorial Company.

In 2008, Northwestern University Press issues Captain O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, a non-musical memoir edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch, O’Neill’s great-granddaughter, with a foreword by Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Carolan himself writes a musical biography of O’Neill, A Harvest Saved: Francis O’Neill and Irish Music in Chicago, which is published in Ireland by Ossian in 1997.

In August 2013, the inaugural Chief O’Neill Traditional Music Festival takes place in Bantry, County Cork, just a few miles from Tralibane. The 2013 event marks the centenary of the publication of O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians. The event has taken place annually since.