seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Death of Robin Williams, Actor & Comedian

robin-williamsRobin McLaurin Williams, American actor and comedian, is found dead in his home in Paradise Cay, California on August 11, 2014 in what is believed to be suicide via asphyxiation.

Williams is born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois on July 21, 1951, the son of Robert Fitzgerald Williams, an Irish American and a senior executive in Ford Motor Company‘s Lincoln-Mercury Division. He had English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and French ancestry

He starts as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. He is credited with leading San Francisco’s comedy renaissance. After rising to fame as an alien called Mork in the TV sci-fi sitcom series Mork & Mindy, he establishes a career in both stand-up comedy and feature film acting. He is known for his improvisational skills.

After his first starring film role in Popeye (1980), Williams stars or co-stars in various films that achieve both critical acclaim and financial success, including Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Aladdin (1992), The Birdcage (1996), and Good Will Hunting (1997). He also stars in widely acclaimed films such as The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), One Hour Photo (2002), and World’s Greatest Dad (2009), as well as box office hits such as Hook (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995) and Night at the Museum (2006).

Williams wins the 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as psychologist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. He also receives two Primetime Emmy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Grammy Awards throughout his career.

On August 11, 2014, Williams commits suicide at his home in Paradise Cay, California, at the age of 63. His wife attributes his suicide to his struggle with diffuse Lewy body dementia. His body is cremated at Montes Chapel of the Hills in San Anselmo and his ashes are scattered in San Francisco Bay on August 21.

Williams’s death instantly becomes global news. The entertainment world, friends, and fans respond to his death through social and other media outlets. U.S. President Barack Obama said of Williams, “He was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”


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Birth of Chicago Mobster Charles Dean O’Banion

charles-o-banionCharles Dean O’Banion, better known as Dion O’Banion, is born to Irish Catholic parents in Maroa, Illinois on July 8, 1892. He graduates from the violent newspaper wars of early 20th century Chicago to become the chief bootlegging rival of mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio.

After the death of his mother in 1901, O’Banion moves with his family to a North Side neighborhood populated largely by other Irish Americans. The neighborhood, then known as Kilgubbin after an Irish place name and now called Goose Island, is notorious for its high crime rate, and O’Banion by all accounts fit easily into that environment. In his teens, he forms a street gang with Earl “Hymie” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran with whom he continues to associate throughout his life.

Chicago of the period is, according to Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, a “wide open city.” Wide open for rackets such as prostitution and gambling, and wide open for violent competition among gangsters. Bombings and murder are met with token official resistance but are often settled by uneasy truces among the rivals.

The violence extends to the press. O’Banion and his friends are “sluggers” for, first, the Chicago Tribune and later for the Tribune’s rival, the Chicago Examiner. Sluggers intimidate sellers and readers of the wrong newspaper. Although played for laughs in stage and film in productions such as The Front Page, the Chicago newspaper wars are quite violent and include lethal gunfights in saloons and on the streets.

In 1909, O’Banion is arrested and convicted of robbery and assault.

The newspapers wars are a good warm-up for O’Banion’s work as a bootlegger when Prohibition comes into effect in 1920. Chicago, with its large population of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe, is a town that loves its beer, wine and liquor. Almost from the start, O’Banion’s North Side Gang is at odds with the South Side outfit led at the time by Torrio.

About 1921, O’Banion and Torrio, who actively wants peace with his rival, works out a deal that seems to satisfy both the South Side gangsters and O’Banion’s group. O’Banion not only keeps the North Side and the Gold Coast, a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Michigan, but he even gets a slice of Cicero, a suburb controlled by Torrio and Capone on the South Side of Chicago, and they all share profits from a lakefront casino called The Ship.

Eventually the peace breaks down. O’Banion is enraged by efforts of a third gang, the Genna crime family’s West Side Gang, to expand its bootlegging and rackets operations into his territory. The Gennas are allied with Torrio’s South Side gang. O’Banion seals his fate when he refuses to forgive a gambling debt that one of the Gennas had racked up at The Ship.

On the morning of November 10, 1924, O’Banion is in his North Side flower shop, Schofield’s, a front for his mob activities. A Torrio associate from New York City, Frankie Yale, enters the shop with Genna gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. When O’Banion and Yale shake hands, Yale grasps O’Banion’s hand in a tight grip. At the same time, Scalise and Anselmi step aside and fire two bullets into O’Banion’s chest and two into his throat. One of the killers fires a final shot into the back of his head as he lies face down on the floor.

Since O’Banion is a major crime figure, the Catholic Church denies him burial in consecrated ground. However, a priest O’Banion has known since childhood recites the Lord’s Prayer and three Hail Marys in his memory. Despite this restriction, his funeral is the biggest anyone can remember. Among those attending are Al Capone and members of the South Side Gang. But there soon will be other funerals. The Beer Wars, as they become known, are just beginning.

Torrio escapes an assassination attempt in 1925 and turns over his operation to Capone, the greatest gangster of all. O’Banion’s friend and conspirator Hymie Weiss, who is fingered as one of those who tried to kill Torrio, is gunned down in 1926. In 1929, in an effort to permanently put down the North Side Gang, led then by Bugs Moran, seven of the North Side mobsters are killed in the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but Moran survives through the end of Prohibition in 1933.