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


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Death of Francis Arthur Fahy, Songwriter & Poet

francis-arthur-fahyFrancis Arthur Fahy, Irish nationalist, songwriter and poet, dies on April 1, 1935. He is probably best remembered as the composer of the evergreen “The Ould Plaid Shawl”. He collaborates with various composers, including Alicia Adélaide Needham, an associate of the Royal Academy of Music.

Fahy is born in Kinvara, County Galway, on September 29, 1854 into a family of seventeen, eight of whom survive. His father, Thomas, comes from the Burren area and his mother, Celia Marlborough, is born near Gort, County Galway.

In 1896, Fahy becomes president of the emerging Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) in London, a position he holds until 1908. He is also a long time member of the London Irish Literary Society. Described as a small, brisk man, his enthusiasm and energy knows no bounds. His most memorable poems and songs include “The Ould Plaid Shawl,” “The Queen of Connemara,” the original “Galway Bay,” and “The Tide Full In.” His publications include The Child’s Irish Song Book (1881), The Irish Reciter (1882), Irish History in Rhyme (1882) and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).

Fahy retires from the Civil Service at the age of 65. He dies at the age of 81 on April 1, 1935.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Murder of George Clancy, Mayor of Limerick

george-clancyGeorge Clancy, Irish nationalist politician and Mayor of Limerick, is shot in his home by Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliaries and dies on March 7, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Clancy is born at Grange, County Limerick in 1881 to a family with a strong republican tradition. He is educated at Crescent College, Limerick, and thereafter at the Catholic University in St. Stephen’s Green, now University College, Dublin. Among his friends at the university are James Joyce, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney. He helps form a branch of the Gaelic League at college and persuades his friends, including Joyce, to take lessons in the Irish language. He plays hurling and is a good friend of Michael Cusack. With Arthur Griffin he joins the Celtic Literary Society. It is said that he is the model for the character of Michael Davin in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Clancy graduates in 1904 and finds a position teaching the Irish language at Clongowes Wood College and is active in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Due to ill health he has to return to his home at Grange. In 1908 he comes to Limerick to teach Irish. In 1913 he joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1915 he marries Máire Killeen, a teacher. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned in Cork, but is released before he comes to trial following a hunger strike.

Clancy helps in Éamon de Valera‘s election campaign in East Clare. He nearly dies of Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic but recovers and, in January 1921, he is elected Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick.

On the night of March 6, 1921 three Auxiliaries come to Clancy’s house and one of them shoots him, injuring him fatally. His wife is also injured in the attack. The previous Mayor, Michael O’Callaghan, is also murdered on the same night by the same group.

Suspicion immediately falls upon members of the Black and Tans, but a British inquiry into the murder, like most such inquiries through the years, absolve Crown forces of any blame. One of Clancy’s killers is later said to be George Nathan who dies in the Spanish Civil War in July 1937.


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Birth of Sophie Bryant, Mathematician, Educator & Feminist

sophie-bryantSophie Willock Bryant, Anglo-Irish mathematician, educator, feminist and activist, is born Sophie Willock in Dublin on February 15, 1850.

Bryant’s father is Rev. Dr. William Willock DD, Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Dublin. She is educated at home, largely by her father. As a teenager she moves to London when her father is appointed Professor of Geometry at the University of London in 1863, and she attends Bedford College. At the age of nineteen she marries Dr. William Hicks Bryant, a surgeon ten years her senior, who dies of cirrhosis within a year.

In 1875 Bryant becomes a teacher and is invited by Frances Mary Buss to join the staff of North London Collegiate School. In 1895 she succeed Buss as headmistress of North London Collegiate, serving until 1918.

When the University of London opens its degree courses to women in 1878, Bryant becomes one of the first women to obtain First Class Honours, in Mental and Moral Sciences, together with a degree in mathematics in 1881, and three years later is awarded the degree of Doctor of Science. In 1882 she is the third woman to be elected to the London Mathematical Society and is the first active female member, publishing her first paper with the Society in 1884. Together with Charles Smith, Bryant edits three volumes of Euclid‘s Elements, for the use of schools (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, books I and II (1897); Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, books III and IV (1899); Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, books VI and IX (1901)).

Bryant is a pioneer in education for women. She is the first woman to receive a Doctor of Science in England, one of the first three women to be appointed to a Royal Commission, the Bryce commission on Secondary Education in 1894–1895, and one of the first three women to be appointed to the Senate of the University of London. When Trinity College Dublin opens its degrees to women, she is one of the first to be awarded an honorary doctorate. She is also instrumental in setting up the Cambridge Training College for Women, now Hughes Hall, Cambridge. She is also said to be one of the first women to own a bicycle.

Bryant is interested in Irish politics, writes books on Irish history and ancient Irish law (Celtic Ireland (1889), The Genius of the Gael (1913)), and is an ardent Protestant Irish nationalist. She is president of the Irish National Literary Society in 1914. She supports women’s suffrage but advocates postponement until women were better educated.

Bryant loves physical activity and the outdoors. She rows, cycles, swims, and twice climbs the Matterhorn. She dies at the age of 72 in a hiking accident in the Alps near Chamonix, France on August 14, 1922.


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Imprisonment of Fenian Charles Kickham

charles-kickhamSentenced to fourteen years hard labour for treason, Irish nationalist and Fenian Charles Kickham is incarcerated in Pentonville Prison on February 10, 1865. He is released in 1869, partly due to ill health. He is a contributor to The Irish People and the organiser of the Fenian movement and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which the English authorities deem seditious. He also authors a number of novels including the critically acclaimed Knocknagow (1873).

The revolutionary movement which comes to be known as Fenianism is unlike that of 1848 in the character of its leaders. The older political agitation is associated with a brilliant outburst of intellectual effort. The majority of the leaders have left behind high intellectual heritage, or asserted under other skies, and in more favourable circumstances, their possession of great intellectual powers. The Fenian movement, on the other hand, is poor in its literary products. Few of its leading spirits reach to any lofty position since its collapse. The best part of Fenian literature is found in The Irish People, the journalistic organ of the association. Along with Kickham, the chief contributors to the journal are Thomas Clarke Luby and John O’Leary.

Kickham is born at Mullenahone, County Tipperary on May 9, 1828. At the age of thirteen he meets with an accident that deprives him of his hearing. He probably owes the many fine productions of his pen to this accident. At around 18 year of age he begins to contribute poems and tales to Irish journals and magazines and when The Irish People is started he becomes one of its chief lead writers. As a result of his involvement in the Fenian movement, he draws the attention of the government and is tried, convicted and sentenced to fourteen years of penal servitude. His comment at the conclusion of the trial is terse: “I have endeavoured to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland.” Four years after his conviction he is released.

Kickham publishes two complete stories, Sally Cavanagh, or The Untenanted Graves, and Knocknagow, or The Homes of Tipperary. These stories have been read wherever there is an Irish home, and have made sad or joyous thousands of Irish hearts. They have also found approval in the columns of English and not friendly journals, which have found themselves able to meet him in friendliness on the impartial ground of literature. His books deserve their popularity with the peasant and the approval of the critic. His pictures of life, especially of peasant life, are wonderfully true to nature, full of keen observation, humour, and fidelity. In his attention to minute details and homely incident he resembles in a great degree the style of Erckmann-Chatrian.

Kickham’s ballads are equally popular, and are just what ballads for the people should be – simple in language, direct in purpose, and in an easy and common measure. A collected edition of his works is published by Duffy & Son of Dublin.

Charles Kickham dies at the age of 54 on August 22, 1882 at the house of James O’Connor, a former member of the IRB and afterwards MP for Wicklow, 2 Montpelier Place, Blackrock, Dublin, where he had been living for many years and had been cared for by the poet Rose Kavanagh. He is buried in Mullinahone, County Tipperary.

(From: The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O’Connor)


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Death of Charles Gavan Duffy

charles-gavin-duffyCharles Gavan Duffy, Irish nationalist, journalist, poet, and Australian politician, dies on February 9, 1903 in Nice, France. He is the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history.

Duffy is born on April 12, 1816 in Dublin Street, Monaghan, County Monaghan. Both of his parents die while he is still a child and his uncle, Fr. James Duffy, who is the Catholic Parish Priest of Castleblayney, becomes his guardian for a number of years. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast and is admitted to the Irish Bar in 1845. Duffy becomes a leading figure in Irish literary circles.

Duffy, along with Thomas Osborne Davis and John Blake Dillon, founds The Nation and becomes its first editor. Davis and Dillon later become Young Irelanders. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association. This paper, under Duffy, transforms from a literary voice into a “rebellious organisation.”

In August 1850, Duffy forms the Tenant Right League to bring about reforms in the Irish land system and protect tenants’ rights, and in 1852 is elected to the House of Commons for New Ross. By 1855, the cause of Irish tenants seems more hopeless than ever. Broken in health and spirit, Duffy publishes a farewell address to his constituency, declaring that he has resolved to retire from parliament, as it is no longer possible to accomplish the task for which he has solicited their votes.

In 1856, emigrates with his family to Australia, settling in the newly formed Colony of Victoria. A public appeal is held to enable him to buy the freehold property necessary to stand for the colonial Parliament. He is immediately elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury in the Western District in 1856. He later represented Dalhousie and then North Gippsland. With the collapse of the Victorian Government‘s Haines Ministry during 1857, another Irish Catholic, John O’Shanassy, unexpectedly becomes Premier with Duffy his second-in-charge.

In 1871, Duffy leads the opposition to Premier Sir James McCulloch‘s plan to introduce a land tax, on the grounds that it unfairly penalises small farmers. When McCulloch’s government is defeated on this issue, Duffy becomes Premier and Chief Secretary.  The majority of the colony is Protestant, and Duffy is accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. In June 1872, his government is defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism.

When Graham Berry becomes Premier in 1877, he makes Duffy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a post he holds without much enthusiasm until 1880, when he quits politics and retires to the south of France. He remains interested in both the politics of his adoptive country and of Ireland. He is knighted in 1873 and is made KCMG in 1877. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy dies in Nice, France, at the age of 86 in 1903.