seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of General Philip Henry Sheridan

philip-sheridanIrish American General Philip Henry Sheridan, career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War, is born in Albany, New York on March 6, 1831.

Sheridan is the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan. Fully grown, he reaches only 5 feet 5 inches in height, a stature that leads to the nickname “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln describes his appearance in a famous anecdote, “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan’s career is noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transfers Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeats Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, is one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursues General Robert E. Lee and is instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In later years, Sheridan fights in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Comanche Chief Tosahwi reputedly tells Sheridan in 1869, “Me, Tosahwi; me good Injun,” to which Sheridan supposedly replies, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan denies he had ever made the statement. Biographer Roy Morris Jr. states that, nevertheless, popular history credits Sheridan with saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” This variation “has been used by friends and enemies ever since to characterize and castigate his Indian-fighting career.” In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown attributes the quote to Sheridan but does not provide documentation to support his contention, so the quote may be more apocryphal than real.

Both as a soldier and private citizen, Sheridan is instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The protection of the Yellowstone area is Sheridan’s personal crusade. He authorizes Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. Barlow names Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promotes military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.

In 1883, Sheridan is appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he is promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan serves as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.

Sheridan suffers a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passes legislation to promote him to general and he receives the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moves him from the heat of Washington, D.C. and he dies of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts on August 5, 1888.

His body is returned to Washington and he is buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The burial helps elevate Arlington to national prominence.


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Birth of Frank Harris, Journalist & Novelist

frank-harrisFrank Harris, Irish American editor, novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher, is born James Thomas Harris in to Welsh parents in Galway, County Galway on February 14, 1855. He is friendly with many well-known figures of his day.

Harris’s father, Thomas Vernon Harris, is a naval officer from Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales. While living with his older brother he is, for a year or more, a pupil at The Royal School, Armagh. At the age of twelve he is sent to Wales to continue his education as a boarder at the Ruabon Grammar School in Denbighshire, a time he is to remember later in My Life and Loves. He is unhappy at the school and runs away within a year.

Harris runs away to the United States in late 1869, arriving in New York City virtually penniless. The 13-year-old takes a series of odd jobs to support himself, working first as a shoeshiner, a porter, a general laborer, and a construction worker on the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. He later turns these early occupational experiences into art, incorporating tales from them into his book The Bomb (1908).

From New York Harris moves to Chicago, where he takes a job as a hotel clerk and eventually a manager. Owing to Chicago’s central place in the meat packing industry, he makes the acquaintance of various cattlemen, who inspire him to leave the big city to take up work as a cowboy. He eventually grows tired of life in the cattle industry and enrolls at the University of Kansas, where he studies law and earns a degree, gaining admission to the Kansas Bar Association.

Harris is not cut out to be a lawyer and soon decides to turn his attention to literature. He returns to England in 1882, later traveling to various cities in Germany, Austria, France, and Greece on his literary quest. He works briefly as an American newspaper correspondent before settling down in England to seriously pursue the vocation of journalism.

Harris first comes to general notice as the editor of a series of London papers including The Evening News, The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, the later being the high point of his journalistic career, with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw as regular contributors.

From 1908 to 1914 Harris concentrates on working as a novelist, authoring a series of popular books such as The Bomb, The Man Shakespeare, and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories. With the advent of World War I in the summer of 1914, he decides to return to the United States.

From 1916 to 1922 Harris edits the U.S. edition of Pearson’s Magazine, a popular monthly which combines short story fiction with socialist-tinted features on contemporary news topics. One issue of the publication is banned from the mails by United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson during the period of American participation in World War I. Despite this Harris manages to navigate the delicate situation which faces the left wing press and keeps Pearson’s Magazine functioning and solvent during the war years.

Harris becomes an American citizen in April 1921. In 1922 he travels to Berlin to publish his best-known work, his four volume autobiography My Life and Loves (1922–1927). It is notorious for its graphic descriptions of his purported sexual encounters and for its exaggeration of the scope of his adventures and his role in history. A fifth volume, supposedly taken from his notes but of doubtful provenance, is published in 1954, long after his death.

Harris also writes short stories and novels, two books on William Shakespeare, a series of biographical sketches in five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits and biographies of his friends Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. His attempts as a playwright are less successful. Only Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900), which is based on an idea by Oscar Wilde, is produced on the stage.

Married three times, Harris dies of a heart attack in Nice, France on August 26, 1931. He is buried at Cimetière Sainte-Marguerite, adjacent to the Cimetière Caucade, in Nice. Just after his death a biography written by Hugh Kingsmill (pseudonym of Hugh Kingsmill Lunn) is published.


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Birth of Dion Boucicault, Playwright & Actor

dionysius-boucicaultDionysius Lardner “Dion” Boucicault, Irish American playwright and actor and a major influence on the form and content of American drama, is born in Dublin on December 26, 1820.

Educated in England, Boucicault begins acting in 1837 and in 1840 submits his first play to Lucia Elizabeth Vestris at Covent Garden, however it is rejected. His second play, London Assurance (1841), which foreshadows the modern social drama, is a huge success and is frequently revived into the 20th century. Other notable early plays were Old Heads and Young Hearts (1844) and The Corsican Brothers (1852).

In 1853 Boucicault and his second wife, Agnes Robertson, arrive in New York City, where his plays and adaptations are long popular. He leads a movement of playwrights that produces in 1856 the first copyright law for drama in the United States. His play The Poor of New York, based on the panics of 1837 and 1857, has a long run at Wallack’s Theatre in 1857 and is presented elsewhere as, for example, The Poor of Liverpool. The Octoroon (1859) causes a sensation with its implied attack on slavery.

Boucicault and his actress wife join Laura Keene’s theatre in 1860 and begin a series of his popular Irish plays — The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), The O’Dowd (1873), and The Shaughraun (1874). Returning to London in 1862, he provides Joseph Jefferson with a successful adaptation of Rip Van Winkle (1865). In 1872 he returns to the United States, where he remains, except for a trip to Australia that results in his third marriage (for which he renounced the legitimacy of his second marriage). Among his associates in the 1870s is the young David Belasco. At the time of his death on September 18, 1890 in New York City, he is a poorly paid teacher of acting. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings, Westchester County, New York.

About 150 plays are credited to Boucicault, who, as both writer and actor, raises the stage Irishman from caricature to character. To the American drama he brings a careful construction and a keen observation and recording of detail. His concern with social themes prefigures the future development of drama in both Europe and America.

(Pictured: Dionysius Boucicault, taken 1890 or before. Photograph: Harvard Theatre Collection/Wikimedia Commons)


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Birth of Brigadier General Thomas Alfred Smyth

thomas-alfred-smythThomas Alfred Smyth, brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is born in Ballyhooly, County Cork on December 25, 1832. He is the last Union general killed in the war. In March 1867, he is nominated and confirmed a brevet major general of volunteers posthumously to rank from April 7, 1865.

Smyth works on his father’s farm in Ireland as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1861 Smyth enlists in the Union army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and is quickly made a captain. He is later commissioned as a major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Colonel Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. In April 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebra and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, concurrent with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Confederate States Army at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. He is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.


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Death of Colonel James Hagan

james-haganJames Hagan, Irish American captain in the United States Army during the Mexican–American War and a Confederate States Army colonel during the American Civil War, dies in Mobile, Alabama on November 6, 1901.

Hagan is born in County Tyrone on June 17, 1822. His family moves to a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he is still at an early age and he is educated at Clermont Academy. He moves to Alabama in 1837. His prosperous uncle, John Hagen of New Orleans, Louisiana, takes him into the family business and sets him up in Mobile to manage the Hagan business there.

Hagan serves in John Coffee Hays‘s Texas Rangers, a cavalry unit in Major General Zachary Taylor‘s army during the Mexican–American War. He is recognized for his gallantry at the Battle of Monterrey. He is commissioned a captain in the 3rd U.S. Dragoons in 1848 and is discharged on July 31, 1848. After the war, he returns to Mobile where he purchases and subsequently manages a plantation rather than remaining in the family mercantile business. In 1854, he marries Bettie Oliver, daughter of Alabama’s attorney general.

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Hagan organizes and is elected captain of a cavalry company for the Alabama Militia, the “Mobile Dragoons,” which serves on guard duty along the Gulf Coast. At the rank of major he transfers to the 1st Mississippi Cavalry Regiment on October 26, 1861. The regiment fights at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6–7, 1862. He leads his men in a mounted charge at the Battle of Perryville which is highly commended by his brigade commander, Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler.

Hagan is promoted to colonel of a new regiment, the 3rd Alabama Cavalry Regiment, on July 1, 1862. The regiment fights in all of the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee. In July 1863, He is assigned to command Brigade 1 of Brigadier General William T. Martin‘s Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Tennessee, which is Major General Joseph Wheeler’s old brigade. During the spring and summer of 1863, the brigade screens the left front of General Braxton Bragg‘s army. Wheeler recommends that Hagan be promoted to brigadier general but Bragg blocks the promotion because he says Hagan is in a state of “dissipation”, a reference to drunkenness or alcoholism. Hagan is wounded near Franklin, Tennessee in the winter of 1862 and again near Kingston, Tennessee in November 1863. In November 1863, he resigns and returns to Mobile to recover from his wounds and his disappointment from not being promoted.

After he had recuperates, Hagan asks that his resignation be revoked. The resignation is revoked and he returns to his regiment for the Atlanta campaign, where the regiment fights as infantry in the trenches. When Brigadier General William Wirt Adams is promoted to command of the Division, Hagan is assigned to permanent command of the brigade, consisting of five regiments and one battalion of Alabama cavalry. His brigade is part of Wheeler’s force which opposes Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‘s March to the Sea and Campaign of the Carolinas. He is wounded again at the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads, near Kinston, North Carolina on March 10, 1865, and again at Fayetteville, North Carolina the next day.

Although Hagan is assigned as acting brigadier general in early 1865, he never receives an official appointment from Jefferson Davis or confirmation by the Confederate States Senate of an appointment as a general officer. Major General Wheeler later writes that he had been told unofficially by Confederate States War Department officials that brigadier general commissions had been issued for Hagan, Henry Marshall Ashby and Moses Wright Hannon near the end of the war, but no such commissions ever were delivered.

Hagan returns to Mobile after the war but is penniless since his fortune had been converted to Confederate money. He works as manager of a plantation on the Alabama River in the 1870s and early 1880s. President Grover Cleveland appoints him crier of the United States District Court in Alabama in 1885.

James Hagan dies on November 6, 1901 at Mobile, Alabama. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile.


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Birth of Peter Boyle, Irish American Actor

peter-boylePeter Lawrence Boyle Jr., Irish American character actor and comedian, is born on October 18, 1935 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He is most noted for his role as Frank Barone on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and the comical monster in Mel Brooks‘s film spoof Young Frankenstein (1974).

Boyle is born to Alice (Lewis) and Francis Xavier Boyle. His paternal grandparents are Irish immigrants, and his mother is of mostly French and British Isles descent. He eventually moves to Philadelphia, where his father is a sought-after local TV personality and children’s show host. Following a solid Catholic upbringing, he is a sensitive youth and joins the Christian Brothers religious order at one point while attending La Salle University in Philadelphia. He leaves the monastery after only a few years when he “lost” his calling.

Bent on an acting career, Boyle initially studies with guru Uta Hagen in New York. The tall, hulking, prematurely bald actor wannabe struggles through a variety of odd jobs as a postal worker, waiter and bouncer while simultaneously building up his credits on stage and waiting for that first big break. Things start progressing for him after appearing in the national company of The Odd Couple in 1965 and landing TV commercials on the sly. In the late 1960s Boyle joins Chicago‘s The Second City improv group and makes his Broadway debut as a replacement for Peter Bonerz in Paul Sills’ Story Theatre (1971).

Boyle gains acclaim for his first starring role, playing the title character, a bigoted New York City factory worker, in the 1970 movie Joe, directed by John G. Avildsen. The film’s release is surrounded by controversy over its violence and language. The role leads to major notoriety, however, and some daunting supporting parts in T.R. Baskin (1971), Slither (1973) and as Robert Redford‘s calculating campaign manager in The Candidate (1972). During this time his political radicalism finds a visible platform after joining Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland on anti-war crusades, which also includes the anti-establishment picture Steelyard Blues (1973). This period also sees the forging of a strong friendship with former Beatle John Lennon.

Destined to be cast as monstrous undesirables throughout much of his career, Boyle plays a monster of another sort in his early film days, and thus avoids a complete stereotype as a film abhorrent. His hilarious, sexually potent Frankenstein’s Monster in the cult Mel Brooks spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) sees him in a sympathetic and certainly more humorous vein. His creature’s first public viewing, in which Boyle shares an adroit tap-dancing scene with “creator” Gene Wilder in full Fred Astaire regalia, is a show-stopping audience pleaser. Late 1970s filmgoers continue to witness him in seamy, urban settings with brutish roles in Taxi Driver (1976) and Hardcore (1979). At the same time he addresses several TV mini-movie roles with the same brilliant darkness such as his Senator Joe McCarthy in Tail Gunner Joe (1977), for which he receives an Emmy nomination, and his murderous, knife-wielding Fatso in the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979).

While the following decade finds Boyle in predominantly less noteworthy filming and a short-lived TV series lead as remote cop Joe Bash (1986), the 1990s bring him Emmy glory for a guest role in an episode of The X-Files (1993). Despite a blood clot-induced stroke in 1990 that impairs his speech for six months, he ventures on and caps his enviable career on TV wielding funny but crass one-liners in the “Archie Bunker” mold on the long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996). A major Emmy blunder has him earning seven nominations for his Frank Barone character without a win, the only prime player on the show unhonored. He survives a heart attack while on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond in 1999, but manages to return full time for the remainder of the series’ run through 2005.

Following a superb turn as Billy Bob Thornton‘s unrepentantly racist father in the sobering Oscar-winner Monster’s Ball (2001), the remainder of Boyle’s films are primarily situated in frivolous comedy fare such as The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), typically playing cranky curmudgeons.

Boyle dies of multiple myeloma and heart disease at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on December 12, 2006. He is interred at Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York. At the time of his death, he has completed his role in the film All Roads Lead Home and is scheduled to appear in The Golden Boys. The end credits of All Roads Lead Home include a dedication to his memory.


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Birth of Irish American Painter William Harnett

william-michael-harnettWilliam Michael Harnett, Irish American painter known for his trompe-l’œil still lifes of ordinary objects, is born in Clonakilty, County Cork on August 10, 1848, during the time of the Great Famine.

Shortly after his birth Harnett’s family emigrates to the United States, settling in Philadelphia. Becoming a United States citizen in 1868, he makes a living as a young man by engraving designs on table silver, while also taking night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later, in New York City, at Cooper Union and at the National Academy of Design. His first known oil painting, a still life, dates from 1874.

The style of trompe-l’œil painting that Harnett develops is distinctive and inspired many imitators, but it is not without precedent. A number of Dutch Golden Age painters, Pieter Claesz for instance, had specialized in tabletop still life of astonishing verisimilitude. Raphaelle Peale, working in Philadelphia in the early 19th century, pioneers the form in America. What sets Harnett’s work apart, besides his enormous skill, is his interest in depicting objects not usually made the subject of a painting.

Harnett paints musical instruments, hanging game, and tankards, but also paints the unconventional Golden Horseshoe (1886), a single rusted horseshoe shown nailed to a board. He paints a casual jumble of second-hand books set on top of a crate, Job Lot, Cheap (1878), as well as firearms and even paper currency. His works sell well, but they are more likely to be found hanging in a tavern or a business office than in a museum, as they dds not conform to contemporary notions of high art.

still-life-violin-and-musicHarnett spent the years 1880–1886 in Europe, staying in Munich from 1881 until early 1885. His best-known paintings, the four versions of After The Hunt, are painted between 1883 and 1885. Each is an imposing composition of hunting equipment and dead game, hanging on a door with ornate hinges at the right and keyhole plate at the left. These paintings, like the horseshoe or currency depictions mentioned earlier, are especially effective as trompe-l’œil because the objects occupy a shallow space, meaning that the illusion is not spoiled by parallax shift if the viewer moves.

Overall, Harnett’s work is most comparable to that of the slightly younger John F. Peto. The two artists know each other, and a comparison can be made between two paintings featuring violins. Harnett’s Music and Good Luck from 1888 shows the violin hanging upright on a door with ornate hinges and with a slightly torn piece of sheet music behind it. The elements are arranged in a stable, deliberate manner. Peto’s 1890 painting shows the violin hanging askew, as well as chipped and worn, with one broken string. The sheet music is dog-eared and torn around the edges, and placed haphazardly behind the instrument. The hinges are less ornate, and one is broken. Harnett’s objects show signs of use but are well preserved, while Peto’s more humble objects are nearly used up.

Crippling rheumatism plagues Harnett in his last years, reducing the number but not the quality of his paintings. He dies in New York City on October 29, 1892. Other artists who paint similar compositions in Harnett’s wake include his contemporary John Haberle and successors such as Otis Kaye and Jefferson David Chalfant.

Harnett’s work is in collections in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York), the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Texas), the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Harvard Art Museums, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia), the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, Nebraska), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid, Spain), the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), the Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Connecticut), and the Wichita Art Museum (Wichita, Kansas) among others.

(Pictured: Music and Good Luck, oil on canvas by William Michael Harnett, 1888, Metropolitan Museum of Art)