seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of William R. Grace, Irish American Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Russell_Grace.jpgWilliam Russell Grace, Irish American politician, the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City, and the founder of W. R. Grace and Company, dies in New York City on March 21, 1904.

Grace is born on May 10, 1832 in Ireland in Riverstown near the Cove of Cork to James Grace and Eleanor May Russell (née Ellen) while the family is away from home. He is raised on Grace property at Ballylinan in Queens County, now County Laois, near the town of Athy. He is a member of a prominent and well-to-do family. In 1846, he sails for New York against the wishes of his father, and works as a printer’s devil and a shoemaker’s helper before returning to Ireland in 1848.

His nephew, Cecil Grace, attempts a crossing of the English Channel in December 1910 in an airplane, flying from Dover to Calais. However, in coming back he becomes disoriented and over Dover flies northeast over the Goodwin Sands toward the North Sea and is lost.

Grace and his father travel to Callao, Peru, in 1851, seeking to establish an Irish agricultural community. While his father returns home, William remains and begins work with the firm of John Bryce and Co., as a ship chandler. In 1854, the company is renamed Bryce, Grace & Company, in 1865, to Grace Brothers & Co., and ultimately to W. R. Grace and Company.

On September 11, 1859, Grace is married to Lillius Gilchrist, the daughter of George W. Gilchrist, a prominent ship builder of Thomaston, Maine, and Mary Jane (née Smalley) Gilchrest. Together, they have eleven children.

Opposing the famous Tammany Hall, Grace is elected as the first Irish American Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880. He conducts a reform administration attacking police scandals, patronage and organized vice, reduces the tax rate, and breaks up the Louisiana State Lottery Company. Defeated in the following election, he is re-elected in 1884 on an Independent ticket but loses again at the following election. During his second term, he receives the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France.

Grace is a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian, at one point contributing a quarter of the aid delivered to Ireland aboard the steamship Constellation during the Irish Famine of 1879. In 1897, he and his brother, Michael, found the Grace Institute for the education of women, especially immigrants.

William R. Grace dies on March 21, 1904 at his residence, 31 East 79th Street, in New York City. His funeral is held at St. Francis Xavier Church on West 16th Street and he is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. At the time of his death his estate is valued at $25,000,000.

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Death of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, Mob Hitman

vincent-mad-dog-collVincent “Mad Dog” Coll, born Uinseann Ó Colla, Irish American mob hitman in the 1920s and early 1930s in New York City, dies on February 8, 1932.

Coll is born in Gweedore, County Donegal, on July 20, 1908. When he is not quite one year old, the Coll family emigrates to New York in search of a better life. At age 12, he is sent to a reform school. After being expelled from multiple Catholic reform schools, he joins The Gophers street gang. He joins up with Dutch Schultz‘s gang and quickly rises through the ranks. By the late 1920s he is working as an armed guard for the illegal beer delivery trucks of Schultz’s mob.

Coll is a loose cannon, and Schultz soon grows tired of his reckless behavior. In 1929, Coll robs a dairy in the Bronx of $17,000 without Schultz’s permission. When Schultz confronts him about the robbery, rather than being apologetic, Coll demands he be made an equal partner.

By January 1930 Coll has formed his own gang and is engaged in a shooting war with Schultz. One of the earliest victims is Peter Coll, shot dead on May 30, 1931, while driving down a Harlem street. Coll goes into a rage of grief and vengeance. Over the next three weeks he guns down four of Schultz’s men. In all, around 20 men are killed in the bloodletting. The exact figure is hard to pin down as New York is also in the midst of the vicious Castellammarese War at the same time. It is mayhem on the streets of Manhattan and the police often have difficulty in deciding which corpse belongs to which war.

On July 28, 1931, Coll allegedly participates in a kidnapping attempt that results in the shooting death of a child. His target is bootlegger Joseph Rao, a Schultz underling who is lounging in front of a social club. Several children are playing outside a nearby apartment house. A large touring car pulls up to the curb, and several men point shotguns and submachine guns towards Rao and start shooting. Rao throws himself to the sidewalk, however, and four young children are wounded in the attack. One of them, five-year-old Michael Vengalli, later dies at Beth David Hospital. After the Vengalli killing, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker dubs Coll a “Mad Dog”.

On October 4, 1931, after an extensive manhunt, New York police arrest Coll at a hotel in the Bronx. He surrenders peacefully. On October 5, a grand jury in New York city indicts Coll in the Vengalli murder. The trial begins in December 1931. He retains famed defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. The prosecution case soon falls apart. At the end of December, the judge issues a directed verdict of not guilty.

It was said that both Dutch Schultz and Owney Madden put a $50,000 bounty on Coll’s head. On February 1, 1932, four or five gunmen invade a Bronx apartment which Coll is rumored to frequent and open fire with pistols and submachine guns. Three people, Coll gangsters Patsy Del Greco and Fiorio Basile and bystander Emily Tanzillo, are killed. Three others are wounded. Coll himself does not show up until 30 minutes after the shooting.

At 12:30 AM on February 8, one week after the Bronx shootings, Coll is using a phone booth at a drug store at Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan. He is reportedly talking to Madden, demanding $50,000 from the gangster under the threat of kidnapping his brother-in-law. Madden keeps Coll on the line while it is traced. Three men in a dark limousine soon arrive at the drug store. While one waits in the car, two others step out. One man waits outside while the other walks inside the store. The gunman tells the cashier to stay calm, draws a Thompson submachine gun from under his overcoat and opens fire on Coll in the glass phone booth. He dies instantly. The killers take off in their car and are chased unsuccessfully up Eighth Avenue.

A total of 15 bullets are removed from Coll’s body at the morgue and even more may have passed through him. He is buried next to his brother Peter at Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. Dutch Schultz sends a floral wreath bearing a banner with the message, “From the boys.”


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Birth of Martin Galvin, Publisher & Activist

martin-galvinMartin J. Galvin, Irish American lawyer, publisher and activist, and former director of NORAID, is born on January 8, 1950 supposedly in Long Island, New York, although he may have been born in the Republic of Ireland as he once, during an interview with 60 Minutes, refers to the “partition of the country of my birth.”

Galvin is the son of a fireman. He attends Catholic schools, Fordham University and Fordham University School of Law. He previously works as a hearing officer for the New York City Department of Sanitation.

Galvin serves as the publicity director for the New York-based NORAID, an Irish American group fundraising organization which raises money for the families of Irish republican prisoners, but is also accused by the American, British, and Irish governments to be a front for the supply of weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army

Galvin becomes a publisher of The Irish People in the 1980s. He is banned from Northern Ireland because of a speech he gives that seems to endorse terrorism. In August 1984 he defies the ban and enters Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland. The following year he returns to Northern Ireland to attend a funeral for an IRA member killed when a makeshift grenade launcher he is trying to fire at a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks explodes. In 1989 Galvin is arrested and deported for violating the exclusion ban yet again.

Galvin has criticised the Northern Ireland peace process as a betrayal of republican ideals, and characterizes the IRA’s decision to open up its arms dumps to Independent International Commission on Decommissioning inspectors as a surrender.

On May 28, 2016, Galvin attends a commemoration for PIRA volunteer George McBrearty in Creggan, Derry.


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Birth of Actress Sara Ellen Allgood

sara-allgoodSara Ellen Allgood, Irish American actress,is born to a Catholic mother and Protestant father in Dublin on October 31, 1879.

Allgood joins Inghinidhe na hÉireann (“Daughters of Ireland”), where she first begins to study drama under the direction of Maud Gonne and William Fay. She begins her acting career at the Abbey Theatre and is in the opening of the Irish National Theatre Society. Her first big role is in December 1904 at the opening of Lady Gregory‘s Spreading the News. By 1905 she is a full-time actress, touring England and North America.

In 1915 Allgood is cast as the lead in Peg o’ My Heart which tours Australia and New Zealand in 1916. She marries her leading man, Gerald Henson, in September 1916 in Melbourne, however, her happiness is short lived. She gives birth to a daughter named Mary in January 1918, who dies just a day later. Her husband dies of influenza during an outbreak in November 1918. After her return to Ireland she continues to perform at the Abbey Theatre. Her most memorable performance is in Seán O’Casey‘s Juno and the Paycock in 1923. She wins acclaim in London when she plays Bessie Burgess in O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in 1926.

Allgood is frequently featured in early Alfred Hitchcock films, such as Blackmail (1929), Juno and the Paycock (1930), and Sabotage (1936). She also has a significant role in Storm in a Teacup (1937).

After many successful theatre tours in the United States, she settles in Hollywood in 1940 to pursue an acting career. She is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Beth Morgan in the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley. She also has memorable roles in the 1941 retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, It Happened in Flatbush (1942), Jane Eyre (1943), The Lodger (1944), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Fabulous Dorseys (1947), and the original Cheaper by the Dozen (1950).

Allgood becomes a United States citizen in 1945 and dies of a heart attack on September 13, 1950 in Woodland Hills, California.

(Note: Many accounts give October 31, 1879 as her date of birth. Her headstone also gives 1879 as her year of birth. However, her sister Margaret is born on August 1, 1879, meaning she could not have been born in that year. Sara Allgood may have been born on October 31, 1880 but her parents may have been late registering her.)


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Death of Ed Sullivan,Television Personality

ed-sullivanEdward Vincent Sullivan, Irish American television personality, sports and entertainment reporter, and syndicated columnist for the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate, dies in Manhattan, New York on October 13, 1974. He is principally remembered as the creator and host of the television variety show The Toast of the Town, later popularly and officially renamed The Ed Sullivan Show. Broadcast for 23 years from 1948 to 1971, it sets a record as the longest-running variety show in United States broadcast history.

Sullivan is born on September 28, 1901 in Harlem, New York City, the son of Elizabeth F. (née Smith) and Peter Arthur Sullivan, a customs house employee, and grows up in Port Chester, New York. He is a gifted athlete in high school, earning 12 athletic letters at Port Chester High School.

Sullivan lands his first job at The Port Chester Daily Item, a local newspaper for which he had written sports news while in high school and then joins the paper full-time after graduation. In 1919, he joins The Hartford Post. The newspaper folds in his first week there but he lands another job on The New York Evening Mail as a sports reporter. After The Evening Mail closes in 1923, he bounced through a series of news jobs. In 1927, he joins The Evening Graphic as sports writer and eventually sports editor. In 1929, when Walter Winchell moves to the New York Daily Mirror, he is made Broadway columnist.

Throughout his career as a columnist, Sullivan dabbles in entertainment, producing vaudeville shows with which he appears as master of ceremonies in the 1920s and 1930s, directing a radio program over the original WABC (now WCBS) and organizing benefit reviews for various causes. In 1941, he is host of the Summer Silver Theater, a variety program on CBS radio, with Will Bradley as bandleader and a guest star featured each week.

In 1948, producer Marlo Lewis gets the CBS network to hire Sullivan to do a weekly Sunday night TV variety show, Toast of the Town, which later becomes The Ed Sullivan Show. Debuting in June 1948, the show is originally broadcast from the Maxine Elliott’s Theatre on West 39th Street in New York City. In January 1953, it moves to CBS-TV Studio 50, at 1697 Broadway in New York City, which in 1967 is renamed the Ed Sullivan Theater. The theater is later the home of the Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Television critics initially give the new show and its host poor reviews.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Sullivan is a respected starmaker because of the number of performers who become household names after appearing on the show, including Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, B.J. Thomas and the Jackson Five. He has a knack for identifying and promoting top talent and pays a great deal of money to secure that talent for his show.

By 1971, the show’s ratings have plummeted. In an effort to refresh its lineup, CBS cancels the program along with some of its other longtime shows. Sullivan is angered and refuses to do a final show, although he remains with the network in various other capacities and hosts a 25th anniversary special in June 1973.

In early September 1974, X-rays reveal that Sullivan has an advanced growth of esophageal cancer. Doctors give him very little time to live and the family chooses to keep the diagnosis secret from him. Sullivan, still believing his ailment to be yet another complication from a long-standing battle with gastric ulcers, dies five weeks later on October 13, 1974, at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. His funeral is attended by 3,000 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, on a cold, rainy day. He is interred in a crypt at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Sullivan has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6101 Hollywood Blvd.


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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)