seamus dubhghaill

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


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Drowning of Anna Catherine Parnell

anna-catherine-parnellAnna Catherine Parnell, Irish nationalist and younger sister of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, drowns at Ilfracombe, Devon, England on September 20, 1911.

Parnell is born at Avondale House near Rathdrum, County Wicklow, the tenth of eleven children of John Henry Parnell, a landlord, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, an Irish American and daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart of the United States Navy. She has very little formal education as a child but the family has an extensive library which she is encouraged to read by her mother. After her father dies in 1859 she moves with the family to Dublin. Delia Parnell is an active socialite while in Dublin and exposes her children to a wide variety of political views.

In 1865 the family moves to Paris but Parnell feels stifled by upper class society rules imposed upon her. She is in Paris when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out in 1870 and is active in the American Ladies’ Committee fundrasing and setting up hospitals. She returns alone to Dublin in 1870 to study art.

Parnell moves to London in 1875 to continue studying art. When her brother Charles is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Meath, she becomes increasingly political. She frequently visits Parliament during debates, sitting in the Ladies’ Gallery. She writes articles about the debates in a column titled Notes From the Ladies’ Cage in the Celtic Monthly. In 1879 she joins her sister, Fanny Parnell, a poet, in New York City where they raise money in support of the Irish National Land League. The sisters work closely with their brother Charles and Michael Davitt but are critical of how the funds raised in America are being used in Ireland. In October 1880 the sisters found the New York Ladies’ Land League with their mother as president. They raised thousands of dollars sent to Ireland.

Parnell returns in Dublin in late 1880. When it seems that the Land League men are likely to be arrested, it is suggested that a women’s league in Ireland could take over the work in their absence. Public opinion at the time is against women in politics, but the Ladies’ Land League is founded on January 31, 1881 with Parnell as its effective leader.

When Charles Parnell and other leaders are imprisoned in 1881, as predicted, the Ladies’ Land League takes over their work. Though it is envisioned as a place holder until the men are released, Parnell organises branches throughout Ireland, encouraging women to play an active role in Land League activities. Offices are given to the ladies but little help. They raise funds for the League and for the support of prisoners and their families. They distribute Land League wooden huts to shelter evicted tenant families and by the beginning of 1882 they have 500 branches, thousands of women members and considerable publicity. They distribute £60,000 in relief aid.

This puts the Ladies’ Land League in serious debt. Parnell approaches her brother Charles, requesting money to settle the debts. Charles, who distrusts her understanding of politics, agrees to provide the money under the condition that the Ladies’ Land League is disbanded. She agrees, disbanding in 1882, but she never forgives Charles.

After her brother’s death in 1891 Parnell lives the rest of her life in the south of England under the assumed name Cerisa Palmer. She writes an angry account of her Land League experiences in Tale of a Great Sham, which is not published until 1986. She makes one last political appearance when she campaigns for a Sinn Féin candidate in a 1907 by-election.

By the summer of 1911, the 59-year-old Parnell is staying in lodgings at Ilfracombe in Devon. An enthusiastic swimmer since childhood, she bathes every day, and on September 20, disregarding a warning of dangerous seas, she goes swimming as usual. She is seen to be in difficulties and the alarm is raised, but by the time rescuers reached her, she is dead. Unlike her brother, whose funeral in Dublin had been the occasion for a massive outpouring of grief and remorse, Anna Parnell was buried quietly in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church in Ilfracombe, in the presence of just seven strangers, and far away from the scenes of her greatest efforts and notoriety.

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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Death of J.P. Donleavy, Novelist & Playwright

jp-donleavyJames Patrick Donleavy, Irish American novelist and playwright, dies in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017. His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which is initially banned for obscenity.

Born in New York City on April 23, 1926 to Irish immigrants Margaret and Patrick Donleavy, Donleavy receives his education at various schools in the United States. He declares himself to be an atheist at the age of 14. He serves in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war ends, he moves to Ireland. In 1946 he begins studying at Trinity College, Dublin, but leaves in 1949 before taking a degree. Also in 1946, he marries Valerie Heron and the couple has two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955). They divorce in 1969 and he remarries in 1970 to Mary Wilson Price. That union also ends in divorce in 1989.

Donleavy’s first published work is a short story entitled A Party on Saturday Afternoon, which appears in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art in 1950. He gains critical acclaim with his first novel, The Ginger Man (1955), which is one of the Modern Library 100 best novels. The novel, of which his friend and fellow writer Brendan Behan is the first person to read the completed manuscript, is banned in Ireland and the United States by reason of obscenity. Lead character Sebastian Dangerfield is in part based on Trinity College companion Gainor Crist, an American Navy veteran also studying at Trinity College on the G.I. Bill, whom Donleavy once describes in an interview as a “saint,” though of a Rabelaisian kind.

Correctly or incorrectly, his initial works are sometimes grouped with the Kitchen Sink artists as well as the “angry young men.” Another novel, A Fairy Tale of New York, provides the title of The Pogues hit song “Fairytale of New York.”

In March 2007, Donleavy is the castaway on BBC Radio 4‘s Desert Island Discs. In 2015, he is the recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

In 2011, it is reported that Donleavy had not fathered his two children with Mary Wilson Price. A DNA test in the early 1990s confirms that Rebecca is the daughter of brewing scion Kieran Guinness, and Rory is the son of Kieran’s older brother Finn, whom Price marries after her divorce from Donleavy. “My interest is only to look after the welfare of the child,” Donleavy tells The Times, “and after a certain stage, you can’t worry about their parentage.”

J.P. Donleavy dies of an apparent stroke in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017 at the aged of 91.


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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 Chauncey Olcott, Actor, Singer & Songwriter

chauncey-olcottJohn Chancellor “Chauncey” Olcott, American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent, is born in Buffalo, New York on July 21, 1858. His mother, Margaret (née Doyle), is a native of Killeagh, County Cork.

In the early years of his career Olcott sings in minstrel shows, before studying singing in London during the 1880s. Lillian Russell plays a major role in helping make him a Broadway star. When the producer Augustus Pitou approaches him in 1893 to succeed William J. Scanlan as the leading tenor in sentimental operettas on Irish themes, Olcott accepts and performs pseudo-Irish roles for the remainder of his career.

Olcott combines the roles of tenor, actor, lyricist and composer in many productions. He writes the complete scores to Irish musicals such as Sweet Inniscara (1897), A Romance of Athlone (1899), Garrett O’Magh (1901), and Old Limerick Town (1902). For other productions he collaborates with Ernest Ball and George Graff, Jr. in works such as The Irish Artist (1894), Barry of Ballymore (1910), Macushla (1912), and The Isle o’ Dreams (1913). There are some twenty such works between 1894 and 1920.

Olcott is a good songwriter who captures the mood of his Irish American audience by combining melodic and rhythmic phrases from traditional Irish music with melancholy sentiment. Some numbers from his musicals become very popular, such as “My Wild Irish Rose” from A Romance of Athlone, “Mother Machree” from Barry of Ballymore, and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” from The Isle o’ Dreams. Sometimes he uses tunes from others, such as that of the title song from Macushla from Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (pseudonym of Harold R. White) or Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (Irish Lullaby) by James Royce Shannon for his production Shameen Dhu (1914).

In 1925, a serious illness forces Olcott to retire and he moves to Monte Carlo, Monaco where he dies of pernicious anemia on March 18, 1932. His body is brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Olcott’s life story is told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott. The film’s plot is based on the biography by Olcott’s widow, Rita Olcott, Song in His Heart (1939).

In 1970, Olcott is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


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Death of William James MacNeven, Physician & Writer

william-james-macneven-1William James MacNeven, Irish American physician and writer, dies in New York City on July 12, 1841.

MacNeven is born on March 21, 1763 at Ballinahown, Aughrim, County Galway. The eldest of four sons, at the age of 12 MacNeven is sent by his uncle Baron MacNeven to receive his education abroad as the Penal Laws render education impossible for Catholics in Ireland. He makes his collegiate studies in Prague. His medical studies are made in Vienna where he is a pupil of Pestel and takes his degree in 1784. He returns to Dublin in the same year to practise.

MacNeven becomes involved in the Society of United Irishmen with such men as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Thomas Addis Emmet, and his brother Robert Emmet. He is arrested in March 1798 and confined in Kilmainham Gaol, and afterwards in Fort George, Scotland, until 1802, when he is liberated and exiled. In 1803, he is in Paris seeking an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte in order to obtain French troops for Ireland. Disappointed in his mission, MacNeven comes to the United States, landing at New York City on July 4, 1805.

In 1807, he delivers a course of lectures on clinical medicine in the recently established College of Physicians and Surgeons. Here in 1808, he receives the appointment of professor of midwifery. In 1810, at the reorganization of the school, he becomes the professor of chemistry, and in 1816 is appointed to the chair of materia medica. In 1826 with six of his colleagues, he resigns his professorship because of a misunderstanding with the New York Board of Regents, and accepts the chair of materia medica at Rutgers Medical College, a branch of the New Jersey institution of that name, established in New York as a rival to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The school at once becomes popular because of its faculty, but after four years is closed by legislative enactment on account of interstate difficulties. The attempt to create a school independent of the regents results in a reorganization of the University of the State of New York.

MacNeven, affectionately known as “The Father of American Chemistry,” dies in New York City on July 12, 1841. He is buried on the Riker Farm in the Astoria section of Queens, New York.

One of the oldest obelisks in New York City is dedicated to him in the Trinity Church, located between Wall Street and Broadway, New York. The obelisk is opposite to another commemorated for his friend Thomas Emmet. MacNeven’s monument features a lengthy inscription in Irish, one of the oldest existent dedications of this kind in the Americas.


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Birth of William O’Dwyer, 100th Mayor of New York City

william-o-dwyerWilliam O’Dwyer, Irish American politician and diplomat who serves as the 100th Mayor of New York City, holding that office from 1946 to 1950, is born in Bohola, County Mayo on July 11, 1890.

O’Dwyer studies at St. Nathys College, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. He emigrates to the United States in 1910, after abandoning studies for the priesthood. He sails to New York City as a steerage passenger on board the liner Philadelphia and is inspected at Ellis Island on June 27, 1910. He first works as a laborer, then as a New York City police officer, while studying law at night at Fordham University Law School. He receives his degree in 1923 and then builds a successful practice before serving as a Kings County (Brooklyn) Court judge. He wins election as the Kings County District Attorney in November 1939 and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate known as Murder, Inc. makes him a national celebrity.

After losing the mayoral election to Fiorello La Guardia in 1941, O’Dwyer joins the United States Army for World War II, achieving the rank of brigadier general as a member of the Allied Commission for Italy and executive director of the War Refugee Board, for which he receives the Legion of Merit. During that time, he is on leave from his elected position as district attorney and replaced by his chief assistant, Thomas Cradock Hughes, and is re-elected in November 1943.

In 1945, O’Dwyer receives the support of Tammany Hall leader Edward V. Loughlin, wins the Democratic nomination, and then easily wins the mayoral election. He establishes the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Park Commissioner Robert Moses to the post, works to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presides over the first billion-dollar New York City budget, creates a traffic department and raises the subway fare from five cents to ten cents. In 1948, he receives The Hundred Year Association of New York‘s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.” In 1948, he receives the epithets “Whirling Willie” and “Flip-Flop Willie” from U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio of the opposition American Labor Party while the latter is campaigning for Henry A. Wallace.

Shortly after his re-election to the mayoralty in 1949, O’Dwyer is confronted with a police corruption scandal uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. O’Dwyer resigns from office on August 31, 1950. Upon his resignation, he is given a ticker tape parade up Broadway‘s Canyon of Heroes in the borough of Manhattan. President Harry Truman appoints him U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He returns to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures and the accusations follow him for the rest of his life. He resigns as ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remains in Mexico until 1960.

O’Dwyer visits Israel for 34 days in 1951 on behalf of his Jewish constituents. Along with New York’s Jewish community, he helps organize the first Israel Day Parade.

William O’Dwyer dies in New York City on November 24, 1964, in Beth Israel Hospital, aged 74, from heart failure. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, Grave 889-A-RH.