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


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Birth of Justin McCarthy, Historian, Novelist & Politician

Justin McCarthy, Irish nationalist and Liberal historian, novelist and politician, is born in Cork, County Cork on November 22, 1830. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1879 to 1900, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

McCarthy is educated in Cork. He begins his career as a journalist at the age of 18 in Cork. From 1853 to 1859 he is in Liverpool, on the staff of the Northern Daily Times. In March 1855, he marries Charlotte Ailman. In 1860 he moves to London, as parliamentary reporter to the Morning Star, of which he becomes editor in 1864. He gives up his post in 1868 and, following a lecturing tour in the United States, joins the staff of The Daily News as leader-writer in 1870. In this capacity he becomes one of the most useful and respected upholders of the liberal politics of the time. He lectures again in America in 1870–71 and in 1886–87.

McCarthy is first elected to Parliament at a by-election on April 4, 1879, when he is returned unopposed as a Home Rule League MP for Longford. He is re-elected unopposed as a Parnellite Home Ruler in 1880, and when the two-seat Longford constituency is split into two divisions under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, he is elected as an Irish Parliamentary Party member for the new single-seat North Longford constituency. His sole opponent, James Mackay Wilson of the Irish Conservative Party, wins only 6% of the votes.

At the 1886 United Kingdom general election, McCarthy is returned unopposed in North Longford, but also stands in Londonderry City, where he is declared the loser to the Irish Unionist Alliance candidate by the narrow margin of 1778 votes to 1781. However, the result is later overturned on petition and McCarthy opts to sit for Londonderry City. During the divorce controversy surrounding Charles Stewart Parnell in November 1890, the British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone expresses a warning, given to McCarthy as intermediary, that if Parnell retains leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party, it will mean the loss of the next election, the end of their alliance and Home Rule. When the annual party leadership election meeting is called later that month, the threat is somehow not conveyed to the members, who re-elect Parnell leader of the Party.

After a further historical meeting of the Irish Party MPs in early December, Parnell refuses to retire and the Party divides. McCarthy becomes chairman of the Anti-Parnellite group, the Irish National Federation, for a year in 1891–92. His nationalism is of a temperate and orderly kind, and though his personal distinction singles him out for the chairmanship during the party dissensions of this period, he is in no active sense the political leader.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, McCarthy again stands both in North Longford and in Londonderry City. In each seat there is a two-way contest between the Anti-Parnellite McCarthy and a Unionist candidate, but the narrow Unionist victory in Londonderry is not overturned, and McCarthy sits for North Longford, where he wins over 93% of the votes. He is returned unopposed for North Longford in 1895 United Kingdom general election and stands down from Parliament at the 1900 United Kingdom general election.

It is claimed that McCarthy’s true vocation is literature. His earliest publications are novels, some of which, such as A Fair Saxon (1873), Dear Lady Disdain (1875), Miss Misanthrope (1878), and Donna Quixote (1879), attain considerable popularity. His most important work is his History of Our Own Times, which treats of the period between Queen Victoria‘s accession and her Diamond Jubilee. He begins a History of the Four Georges (1884–1901) and the latter half is written by his son, Justin Huntly McCarthy.

Justin McCarthy dies at the age of 81 in Folkestone, Kent, England on April 24, 1912.

(Pictured: Portrait style photograph of Irish politician Justin McCarthy, taken in 1891 by Herbert Rose Barraud)


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Death of Seumas O’Kelly, Journalist, Writer & Playwright

Seumas O’Kelly, journalist, fiction writer, and playwright, dies in Dublin on November 14, 1918, following a cerebral haemorrhage.

O’Kelly is born James Kelly in Mobhill, Loughrea, County Galway, youngest of seven (or possibly eight) children of Michael Kelly, corn merchant, and his wife, Catherine Fitzgerald. His date of birth is uncertain. Some commentators believe he is the James Kelly whose birth was registered on November 16, 1875, but relatives claim this was a sibling and namesake who died prematurely. His death certificate implies he was born in 1878, and family members maintained he was born in 1880.

Loughrea is at the centre of the bitterly-fought plan of campaign agitation on the Clanricarde estate from the late 1880s. Many tenants in the town and surrounding rural districts are evicted for non-payment of rent, and Lord Clanricarde resists reinstatement until the estate is purchased by special legislation shortly before World War I. According to one source, the O’Kellys are themselves evicted during the Plan of Campaign, though they seem to retain a degree of financial stability. A widespread perception that nationalist politicians had exploited the evicted tenants contributes to the relative strength of Parnellism in the area, and the early appearance of Sinn Féin. This background inspires such works as O’Kelly’s 1917 play, The Parnellite.

While growing up in Loughrea, O’Kelly is profoundly influenced by contact with older relatives and country folk from whom he learns some Irish and the folklore/storytelling tradition that shapes many of his stories. The example of his mother and friendship with the local Carmelite fathers, whom he serves as an altar boy, gives him a strong commitment to Catholicism. This coexists in his work with an Ibsenite-Parnellite insistence on individual defiance of conformity, and a gentle exaltation of the sensitive dreamer isolated from the life around him. The mixture is sometimes uneasy. His observations on domestic violence, the sexual exploitation of servant girls by hypocritically pious employers, and prejudice against children born outside marriage or raised in the workhouse are unobtrusive but biting. His play, The Bribe (1913), gives a devastating depiction of the social and economic pressures which induce a small-town shopkeeper and poor law guardian to accept a bribe to appoint an underqualified dispensary doctor, with disastrous results. The corrupt and snobbish doctor is called Power O’Connor, an unsubtle hit at the nationalist MP, T. P. O’Connor. This element of social observation distinguishes him from the more symbolist city-born Daniel Corkery, to whom he is often compared. Much of his writing is recognisably set in Loughrea.

O’Kelly begins working as a journalist on local papers, including the Midland Tribune, the Tuam News, and the Connacht Leader. He becomes editor of The Southern Star, based in Skibbereen, County Cork, in 1903, and is said to be the youngest newspaper editor in Ireland at the time. He moves to Naas, County Kildare, in 1906, as editor of the Leinster Leader. Here he lives in a house by the canal, which provides the inspiration for his linked series of short stories, The Golden Barque, along with his father, a nephew, and his brother Michael. Already a contributor to The United Irishman published by Arthur Griffith, and later its successor, Sinn Féin, he is active in the Naas Sinn Féin club and makes regular weekend visits to Dublin, where Griffith introduces him to Dublin literary circles. Here his closest friends are James Stephens, whose influence is visible in the more whimsical and fantastic elements of O’Kelly’s work, and Seumas O’Sullivan, who recalls O’Kelly as a man of remarkable gentleness and integrity.

O’Kelly’s journalistic career is accompanied by his development as a writer, publishing stories in a variety of outlets, including the Irish Rosary and the Irish Packet. From 1908 he has several plays produced by the Theatre of Ireland, a nationalist-oriented rival to the Abbey Theatre. Lustre (1913), written jointly with Casimir Markievicz, later becomes the basis for a Soviet film.

Around 1911, O’Kelly suffers a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which leaves him with a chronic heart condition and a strong sense of mortality. He continues to write extensively and with increasing skill. He becomes editor of Dublin’s The Saturday Evening Post in 1912 and moves to Dublin, where he lives in Drumcondra. At this time he is an occasional contributor to The Manchester Guardian, turning down a permanent job on that paper. He leaves the Post in 1915 because of continuing ill-health and is offered the editorship of The Sunday Freeman but has to retire after two weeks. He then returns to Naas. At this time his play Driftwood, commissioned by Annie Horniman, is produced in Manchester and London.

When O’Kelly’s brother is interned after the Easter Rising, he resumes the editorship of the Leinster Leader until his brother’s release at Christmas 1916. He also contributes topical articles to the Sunday Independent. His literary reputation continues to increase with a short story collection, Waysiders (1917), and his best-regarded full-length novel, The Lady of Deerpark (1917), a melancholy story about the last heiress of a declining Catholic gentry family. Another novel, Wet Clay (1922), is published posthumously and is the story of the tense relationship between a “returned Yank” and his small-farmer cousins, which shows deeply unresolved ambivalence about the nature and prospects of Irish rural society after the Land War.

When Griffith and many other Sinn Féin activists are arrested and imprisoned in May 1918, O’Kelly returns to Dublin to edit the Sinn Féin paper Nationality. During the days after the Armistice of November 11, 1918, a crowd of soldiers and women whose husbands are serving in the British Army attack the paper’s premises, which are also the headquarters of Sinn Féin. As a result of these attacks O’Kelly suffers a cerebral haemorrhage which leads to his death on November 14, 1918.

O’Kelly’s funeral turns into a major political demonstration and his status as a nationalist martyr leads to the posthumous publication of many of his works. These include the novella, The Weaver’s Grave (1920), generally regarded as his masterpiece. It has been reprinted regularly and translated into several languages. A 1961 Radio Éireann adaptation by Micheal Ó hAodha wins the Prix Italia. The twenty-fifth and fiftieth anniversaries of his death see various commemorations in his honour and a short-lived Seumas O’Kelly Society is founded in 1968. O’Kelly never marries but is said to have cherished a hopeless passion for the actress and nationalist activist, Máire Níc Shiubhlaigh, for whom he writes the play The Shuiler’s Child (1909).

(From: “O’Kelly, Seumas” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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Birth of Michael O’Riordan, Founder of the Communist Party of Ireland

Michael O’Riordan, the founder of the Communist Party of Ireland who also fights with the Connolly Column in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, is born at 37 Pope’s Quay, Cork, County Cork, on November 12, 1917.

O’Riordan is the youngest of five children. His parents come from the West Cork Gaeltacht of BallingearyGougane Barra. Despite his parents being native speakers of the Irish language, it is not until he is interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II that he learns Irish, being taught by fellow internee Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who goes on to lecture at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a teenager, O’Riordan joins the Irish nationalist youth movement, Fianna Éireann, and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA at the time is inclined toward left-wing politics and socialism. Much of its activity concerns street fighting with the quasi-fascist Blueshirt movement and he fights Blueshirt fascism on the streets of Cork in 1933–34. He is friends with left-wing inclined republicans such as Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, and in 1934, he follows them into the Republican Congress, a short-lived socialist republican party.

O’Riordan joins the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and works on the communist newspaper The Irish Workers’ Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O’Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, go to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They are motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O’Duffy who go to Spain to fight on the “nationalist” side in the Irish Brigade. He accompanies a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic’s final offensive of July 25, 1938, he carries the flag of Catalonia across the River Ebro. On August 1, he is severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He is repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades are disbanded.

In 1938 O’Riordan is offered an Irish Army commission by the Irish Free State but chooses instead to train IRA units in Cork. As a result of his IRA activities during World War II, or the Emergency as it is known in neutral Ireland, he is interned in the Curragh internment camp from 1939 until 1943 where he is Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut and partakes in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Gaelic League classes as well as publishing Splannc (Irish for “Spark,” named after Vladimir Lenin‘s newspaper).

In 1944 O’Riordan is founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 is a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party, whose other notable members include Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.

O’Riordan subsequently works as a bus conductor in Cork and is active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In 1946 he stands as a Cork Socialist Party candidate in the Cork Borough by-election and afterwards moves to Dublin where he lives in Victoria Street with his wife Kay Keohane of Clonakilty, continues to work as a bus conductor and remains active in the ITGWU.

In 1947, O’Riordan is a founding secretary of the Irish Workers’ League and general secretary thereafter, and of its successor organisation the Irish Workers’ Party from 1962–70.

In the 1960s, O’Riordan is a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which agitates for clearances of Dublin’s slums and for the building of social housing. There, he befriends Fr. Austin Flannery, leading Minister for Finance and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey to dismiss Flannery as “a gullible cleric” while the Minister for Local Government, Kevin Boland, describes him as a “so-called cleric” for sharing a platform with O’Riordan.

In all O’Riordan runs for election five times, campaigning throughout for the establishment of a socialist republic in Ireland but given Ireland’s Catholic conservatism and fear of communism, he does so without success. He does, however, receive playwright Sean O’Casey‘s endorsement in 1951.

O’Riordan’s participation in the Spanish Civil War is always an important part of his political identity. In 1966 he attends the International Brigades’ Reunion in Berlin and is instrumental in having Frank Ryan’s remains repatriated from Germany to Ireland in 1979.

O’Riordan is a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attends the 1st Party Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1984. He also campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and attends their Appeal trial in 1990. He serves as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (1970–83) and as National Chairman of the party (1983–88). He publishes many articles under the auspices of the CPI.

O’Riordan’s last major public outing comes in 2005 at the re-dedication of the memorial outside Dublin’s Liberty Hall to the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He and other veterans are received by President of Ireland Mary McAleese. He is also presented with Cuba’s Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O’Riordan is approached by IRA leaders Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello with a view to obtaining guns from the Soviet KGB to defend Irish republican areas of Belfast during the communal violence that marks the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O’Riordan then contacts the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms does not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation is known as Operation Splash. The IRA splits in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it is the latter faction who receives the Soviet arms. Mitrokhin’s allegations are repeated in Boris Yeltsin‘s autobiography.

O’Riordan’s book, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936–1939, is published in 1979 and deals with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book is reprinted in 2005 and is launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book is the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore‘s famous song “Viva la Quinta Brigada.”

In 1991, O’Riordan’s wife dies at the age of 81 at their home. He continues to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lives nearby. He lives there until falling ill in November 2005 and is taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorates and he quickly develops Alzheimer’s disease. Soon afterwards he is moved to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spends the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88 on May 18, 2006.

O’Riordan’s funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium is attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Road, hundreds turn up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic grounds to a halt as family, friends and comrades – many of whom are waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland – escort O’Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony takes place led by Manus O’Riordan, Head of Research at SIPTU, with contributions from O’Riordan’s family, Communist Party general secretary Eugene McCartan and IBMT representative Pauline Frasier.

The funeral congregation includes politicians such as Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte, his predecessor Ruairi Quinn, party front-bencher Joan Burton, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and councillor Larry O’Toole, ex-Workers’ Party leader Tomás Mac Giolla and former Fianna Fáil MEP Niall Andrews. Also in attendance are union leaders Jack O’Connor (SIPTU), Mick O’Reilly (ITGWU) and David Begg (ICTU). Actors Patrick Bergin, Jer O’Leary, singer Ronnie Drew, artist Robert Ballagh, and newsreader Anne Doyle are also among the mourners. Tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Labour Party TDs Ruairi Quinn and Michael D. Higgins.


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Death of Frank Hugh O’Donnell, Writer, Journalist & Politician

Frank Hugh O’Donnell, Irish writer, journalist and nationalist politician, dies in London on November 2, 1916.

O’Donnell is born in an army barracks in Devon, England, where his father, Sergeant Bernard MacDonald, is stationed. His mother, Mary Kain, is a native of Ballybane, close to Galway city. He is educated at the Erasmus Smith School in Galway, Coláiste Iognáid (the “Jes”), and later enrolls in Queen’s College Galway, where he studies English literature, history and political economy. While a student at the college, he acquires a considerable reputation as an orator, and is a frequent contributor to meetings of the college’s Literary and Debating Society, of which he becomes vice-auditor for the 1864–65 session.

Even in his student days, O’Donnell seems to be quick to voice his opinions, and revells in controversy. In November 1866, addressing the Literary and Debating Society on the question “Was the character of Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India praiseworthy?,” he causes uproar by denouncing “the principle and the system which have lain at the root of the international and intercolonial policy of England, from the days when Elizabeth, the Infamous, chartered for profit two of the first ships which opened the African slave trade.” His remarks cause the chairman of the meeting, Professor Thomas Moffett, to prevent him from continuing his speech, stating that “such an epithet ought not to be applied to any predecessor of our present gracious Queen.” O’Donnell regards such action as an unwarranted restriction on his freedom of speech, and in a letter published in the local press gives an early example of his high-flown literary style:

“I hold that Debating Societies are the nurseries of independent thought, and the training schools of sober criticism. I believe in the power and impartiality of an enlightened studenthood … I have followed the mind of Austin. I have sat at the feet of Cairnes. I have drunk of the philosophy of Mill. I claim for Judicial Science, for Economic Science, for the Philosophy of History, a place in the discussions of our society, I pity and I scorn the formidable confederacy of fools who dare not call a spade a spade.”

This incident, combined with the reluctance of the society to prevent O’Donnell from addressing its meetings, eventually leads to the suspension of the society from the Queen’s College and its temporary migration to rooms in the city of Galway.

O’Donnell graduates from the Queen’s College with an M.A. degree in 1868, winning several gold medals for his academic performance. By this stage, he has begun to style himself ‘Frank Hugh O’Donnell,’ believing himself to be a descendant of Hugh O’Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell.

Leaving Galway, O’Donnell moves to London, where he embarks on a career in journalism, following his college contemporary T. P. O’Connor. O’Connor’s knowledge of modern European languages has helped him to establish himself as a correspondent on European affairs, and he assists O’Donnell in developing a similar reputation. He spends a brief period on the staff of The Morning Post.

In the 1874 United Kingdom general election, O’Donnell is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Galway Borough, but is unseated by the courts in what appears to be a politically inspired judgment which uses certain unsavoury campaigning tactics in which O’Donnell had indulged as its basis. He is succeeded in the seat by his election agent, Dr. Michael Francis Ward, who is himself succeeded in 1880 by T. P. O’Connor in an unusual succession, all three having been either auditor or vice-auditor of the Queen’s College Literary and Debating Society in the same era.

In 1875, O’Donnell is a founding member of the Constitutional Society of India, a group promoting political autonomy for India. In 1877, he secures a more permanent election to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom as MP for Dungarvan. He holds the seat until 1885, when the constituency is abolished. He strikes a colourful and controversial figure in parliament and becomes renowned for his declamatory speech-making. He is a prominent obstructionist and claims credit for inventing the tactic of obstructionism which is to yield such results for the Home Rule League under Charles Stewart Parnell. Indeed, he sees himself as a natural leader and becomes disillusioned when Parnell is selected in May 1880 to succeed William Shaw as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He calls the British ‘Imperial pirates’ and inaugurates the Constitutional Society of India. Its aim is Home Rule for India, “Mr. O’Donnell’s grand passion in politics was a confederation of all the discontented races of the Empire under the lead of the Irish party. He once brought down some scores of dusky students of all the races and creeds of Hindustan to the House of Commons.”

Parnell refuses to let O’Donnell be nominated in 1885. He leaves the Irish Parliamentary Party and conventional politics, but not its general aims of promoting home rule and tenant farmers’ rights. His last and perhaps most important contribution to the fortunes of the party is the libel case he launches against The Times in 1888 over the series “Parnellism and Crime.” Though the case is lost, it results in the establishment of the Parnell Commission which exonerates Parnell from condoning the Phoenix Park Murders, and exposes the Pigott Forgeries.

In his later years O’Donnell begins investigating misconduct by both the British Civil Service and the Roman Catholic church in Ireland. His Paraguay on Shannon (1908) is an amusing but serious critique of unethical practices by the Catholic clergy in local politics, education, and their involvement in the Congested Districts Board for Ireland that is financed by Parliament in order to improve the depressed economy of western Ireland. Parliament believes that by improving the living standards of the Irish peasant class, they can “kill Home Rule with kindness.”

After careful investigation, O’Donnell accuses members of the Catholic clergy of illegally diverting Government money earmarked for economic development into new Cathedrals, parish churches, and other ecclesiastical building projects. He argues that the British Government needs to provide better oversight of how the Congested Districts Board’s funds are being used. He believes that “in Ireland material ruin has accompanied clerical despotism.” His hostility to the Church draws the ire of Catholic historians who systematically undermine his credibility.

Ernest Belfort Bax writes that O’Donnell’s “matter is better than his manner.”

O’Donnell dies a bachelor in London on November 2, 1916 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Hardline Unionists Reluctant to Support David Trimble’s Re-election

On Monday, October 29, 2001, hardline unionists seek to block David Trimble‘s re-election as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

As the hardline Ulster Unionists express reluctance to support the current stance of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leadership, Trimble is bidding to win over crucial support for his campaign to be re-elected as First Minister.

Although the meeting of the UUP’s executive over the previous weekend endorses Trimble’s return to office in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the re-election bid can be thwarted by a failure to win grassroots support.

At least two Assembly Members express grave reservations about supporting Trimble’s re-election as First Minister, and anti-agreement factions within the UUP call a meeting of the party’s ruling council to be held within the next three weeks.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Assembly Member Pauline Armitage says she remains unhappy about the direction the party is taking and the questions about decommissioning remains unanswered. Earlier North Down Assembly Member Peter Weir says that the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) move on decommissioning is a “one-off stunt.”

In order to be returned as First Minister, along with Deputy First Minister Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader-in-waiting Mark Durkan, Trimble must establish a majority amongst both unionist and nationalist Assembly Members.

While it is anticipated that the elections of the First and Deputy First Ministers will be held later in the week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) calls on its members to prepare for Assembly elections. The anti-Good Friday Agreement DUP anticipate a collapse of the power-sharing Assembly if the re-elections of top ministerial posts fail to return a quorum of support from the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). The DUP says that meetings are to be held on October 29 to discuss the party’s strategy.

The Progressive Unionist Party’s (PUP) Billy Hutchinson says that too many concessions have been given to nationalists.

(From: “Trimble attempts to drum up re-election support,” 4NI.co.uk, October 29, 2001)


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Birth of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, is born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, on October 17, 1803.

O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Smith O’Brien by George Francis Mulvany, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Ulster Volunteer Force Attacks Across Northern Ireland

On October 2, 1975, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, carries out a wave of shootings and bombings across Northern Ireland. Six of the attacks leave 12 people dead (mostly civilians) and around 45 people injured. There is also an attack in the small village of Killyleagh, County Down. There are five attacks in and around Belfast which leave people dead. A bomb which explodes near Coleraine leaves four UVF members dead. There are also several other smaller bombs planted around Northern Ireland, sixteen in total, but other than causing damage they do not kill or injure anyone.

There is a rise in sectarian killings during the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) truce with the British Army, which begins in February 1975 and officially lasts until February 1976. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/Irish nationalists. Loyalists kill 120 Catholics in 1975, the vast majority civilians. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

The first attack of the day takes place at Casey’s Bottling Plant in Belfast. The UVF group, which is alleged to have been led by Shankill Butchers leader Lenny Murphy, enters the premises by pretending to have an order to be filled before launching the attack. Four employees are shot and killed in the attack, sisters Frances Donnelly (35), Marie McGrattan (47) and Gerard Grogan (18) all die that day, with a fourth, Thomas Osborne (18), dying of his wounds three weeks later. Murphy personally shoots all except Donnelly who is killed by his accomplice William Green. The two sisters are forced to kneel on the ground and are shot in the back of the head.

In the next attack Thomas Murphy (29), a Catholic photographer from Belfast, is killed in a booby-trap bomb and gun attack, when two UVF gunmen enter his premises on Carlisle Circus (close to both the loyalist Shankill Road and republican New Lodge areas of Belfast) and shoot him in the chest, before planting a duffel bag bomb in his shop. The resulting explosion injures several people including a female passer-by who loses her leg.

Next the UVF carries out a gun and bomb attack on McKenna’s Bar near Crumlin, County Antrim, which kills a Catholic civilian John Stewart (35) and injures scores of people.

In Killyleagh, County Down, a no-warning bomb explodes outside a Catholic-owned bar, The Anchor Inn. Irene Nicholson (37), a Protestant woman, is killed as she is passing by while the attack is being carried out. Three UVF members are later arrested for this attack in Bangor and one of them claims the attack was “a small one to scare them.”

Next Ronald Winters (26), a Protestant civilian, is shot dead by the UVF in his parents’ house on London Road, Belfast.

Later that night four UVF members are killed as they drive along a road in Farrenlester, near Coleraine, when the bomb they are transporting explodes prematurely.

The following day, October 3, the UVF is once again made a proscribed terrorist organisation. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees had unbanned the UVF in May 1974, the same day the ban on Sinn Féin was lifted, a move never extended to the IRA. Despite this the UVF are still able to kill Catholic civilians at will for the remainder of 1975 and for most of 1976 also.


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Death of John McCormack, Renowned Irish Tenor

Papal Count John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS, Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control, dies in Booterstown, Dublin, on September 16, 1945.

McCormack is born on June 14, 1884, in Athlone, County Westmeath, the second son and fifth of the 11 children of Andrew McCormack and his wife Hannah Watson. His parents are both from Galashiels, Scotland, and work at the Athlone Woolen Mills, where his father is a foreman. He is baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, on June 23, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone and later attends Summerhill College, Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peter’s Church in Athlone under his choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. He marries Lily Foley in 1906 and they have two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In March 1904, McCormack becomes associated with James Joyce, who at the time has singing ambitions himself. He persuades Joyce to enter the Feis Ceoil that year, where the not yet famous writer is awarded the Bronze Medal.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini, father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini, in Milan. Sabatini finds McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrates on perfecting his breath control, an element that becomes part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist.

In 1906, McCormack makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year, he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909, he begins his career in the United States.

In February 1911, McCormack plays Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert‘s opera Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year, he tours Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engages him, then at the height of his operatic career, aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season. He returns for concert tours in subsequent years.

By 1912, McCormack is beginning to become involved increasingly with concert performances, where his voice quality and charisma ensures that he becomes the most celebrated lyric tenor of his time. He does not, however, retire from the operatic stage until after his performance of 1923 in Monte Carlo, although by then the top notes of his voice have contracted. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he can sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart‘s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing is just as impressive in this regard.

McCormack makes hundreds of recordings, his best-known and most commercially successful series of records being those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He is Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. In the 1920s, he sings regularly on radio and later appears in two sound films, Song o’ My Heart (1930), playing an Irish tenor, and as himself appearing in a party scene in Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British three-strip Technicolor feature.

McCormack is one of the first artists to record the popular ballad “I Hear You Calling Me” written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. He records it twice for Odeon Records starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927, becoming his best seller. He is the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914. He also records a best-selling version of another popular World War I tune, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” in 1917. He also sings songs expressive of Irish nationalism and endorses the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He is associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms),” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” Between 1914 and 1922, he records almost two dozen songs with violin accompaniment provided by Fritz Kreisler, with whom he also tours. He records songs of Hugo Wolf for the Hugo Wolf Society in German. In 1918, he records the song “Calling Me Home to You.”

In 1917, McCormack becomes a naturalised citizen of the United States. In June 1918, he donates $11,458 toward the U.S. World War I effort. By then, his career is a huge financial success, earning millions in his lifetime from record sales and appearances.

By 1920, Edwin Schneider has become McCormack’s accompanist and the two are “inseparable.” When Schneider retires, Gerald Moore takes over as accompanist from 1939 to 1943.

In 1927, McCormack moves into Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, County Kildare, and adopts a very opulent lifestyle by Irish standards. He also owns apartments in London and New York. He hopes that one of his racehorses, such as Golden Lullaby, would win The Derby, but this never occurs.

McCormack also purchases Runyon Canyon in Hollywood in 1930 from Carman Runyon. He sees and likes the estate while there filming Song o’ My Heart (1930), an early all-talking, all-singing picture. He uses his salary for this movie to purchase the estate and builds a mansion he calls ‘San Patrizio,’ after Saint Patrick. He and his wife live in the mansion until they return to England in 1938.

McCormack tours often, and in his absence, the mansion is often let to celebrities such as Janet Gaynor and Charles Boyer. The McCormacks make many friends in Hollywood, among them Errol Flynn, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Charles E. Toberman and the Dohenys. After his farewell tour of America in 1937, the McCormacks deed the estate back to Carman Runyon expecting to return to the estate at a later date. World War II intervenes and he does not return.

McCormack originally ends his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gives concerts, tours, broadcasts and records in this capacity until 1943 when poor health finally forces him to retire permanently.

Ill with emphysema, McCormack purchases a house near the sea, “Glena,” Booterstown, Dublin. After years of increasingly poor health, and a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, he dies at his home in Booterstown on September 16, 1945. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, St. Patrick’s section, plot reference E/120.


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Birth of John Martin, Irish Nationalist Activist

John Martin, Irish nationalist activist, is born on September 8, 1812, into a landed Presbyterian family, the son of Samuel and Jane (née Harshaw) Martin, in Newry, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. He shifts from early militant support for Young Ireland and the Repeal Association, to non-violent alternatives such as support for tenant farmers’ rights and eventually as the first Home Rule MP, for Meath (1871–75).

Martin first meets John Mitchel while attending Dr. Henderson’s private school in Newry. He receives an Arts degree at Trinity College Dublin in 1832 and proceeds to study medicine, but has to abandon this in 1835 when his uncle dies and he has to return to manage the family landholding.

In 1847 Martin is moved by the Great Famine to join Mitchel in the Repeal Association but subsequently leaves it with Mitchel. He contributes to Mitchel’s journal, United Irishman, and then following Mitchel’s arrest on May 27, 1848, he continues with his own anti-British journal, The Irish Felon, and establishes “The Felon Club.” This leads to a warrant for his arrest, and he turns himself in on July 8, 1848. He is sentenced on August 18, 1848 to ten years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

Martin arrives on the Elphinstone with Kevin Izod O’Doherty in Hobart, Tasmania, in November 1849. He accepts a “ticket of leave” which allows him to live in relative freedom at Bothwell, provided he promises not to escape.

While in Tasmania, Martin continues to meet in secret with his fellow exiles Kevin Izod O’Doherty, Thomas Francis Meagher, William Smith O’Brien, and John Mitchel. He and Mitchel live together before the arrival of Mitchel’s wife, Jenny. He chooses not to join Mitchel when Mitchel revokes his ticket of leave and escapes. Instead he remains in Tasmania until he is granted a “conditional pardon” in 1854. This allows him to leave for Paris, and he returns to Ireland on being granted a full pardon in 1856.

On return to Ireland Martin becomes a national organiser for the Tenant Right League. He begins to write for The Nation in 1860. He forms the National League with others in January 1864 – it is mainly an educational organisation but Fenians disrupt its meetings. He remains in contact with Mitchel in Paris through 1866. He opposes the Fenians’ support of armed violence, yet, together with Alexander Martin Sullivan in December 1867, he heads the symbolic funeral march honouring the Manchester Martyrs as it follows the MacManus route to Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. He is briefly arrested for these activities but the charges are dropped.

Martin is in the United States in December 1869 when he is nominated by Isaac Butt and his nationalists as the Irish nationalist Home Rule candidate to oppose Reginald Greville-Nugent, who is supported by the Catholic clergy, in the Longford by-election. Greville-Nugent initially wins the vote but the result is nullified by Judge Fitzgerald on the grounds that voters had been illegally influenced in the non-secret voting process. In the May 1870 re-run, Butt’s second candidate, Edward Robert King-Harman, like Martin a Protestant landlord, is also defeated, but this time legally.

Contradictions and factionalism are symptomatic of the struggle for influence and leadership at the time between the waning Church of Ireland and the rising Irish Catholic Church. Hence a secular Protestant land-owning, non-violent elite reformist nationalist who desires Home Rule like Martin, can find himself both sympathetic to and at odds with a militant organisation like the Fenians with their Jacobin– and American-influenced ideas of revolutionary republicanism and different social roots. Until Charles Stewart Parnell, the Isaac Butt-originated Home Rule forces could not obtain the support of the Catholic Church under the anti-Fenian Cardinal Paul Cullen or manage to achieve more than short-term tactical alliances with Fenians, leading to a split and uncoordinated opposition to British rule. Protestants such as Martin and John Mitchel, with their early political roots in Young Ireland, are, whatever their political ideals, not part of the majority Catholic mainstream, which consists largely of tenants rather than landlords.

In the January 1871 by-election, Martin is elected by a margin of 2–1 to the seat of Meath in the British parliament as the first Home Rule MP, representing first Isaac Butt’s Home Government Association and from November 1873 the Home Rule League. This is unusual for a Protestant in a Catholic constituency, and is a measure of the popular esteem Martin is held in. He retains his seat in the 1874 United Kingdom general election as one of 60 Home Rule members. He is commonly known as “Honest John Martin.” In parliament he speaks strongly for Home Rule for Ireland and opposes Coercion Bills.

Martin dies in Newry, County Down, on March 29, 1875, homeless and in relative poverty, having forgiven tenant fees during preceding years of inflation and low farm prices. His parliamentary seat of County Meath is taken up by Charles Stewart Parnell.

Martin marries Henrietta Mitchel, the youngest sister of John Mitchel, on November 25, 1868, after twenty years of courtship. She shares her husband’s politics, and after his death campaigns for home rule believing this to be a continuation of the Young Ireland mandate. After the split in the party, she sides with Charles Stewart Parnell. She dies at her home in Dublin on July 11, 1913, and is buried in Newry.


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Gerry Adams Announces Re-election Bid as Sinn Féin President

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams announces on September 5, 2017, he will seek re-election as the party president in November and then outline his own future intentions as the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prepares to complete a generational shift in its leadership.

Adams, Sinn Féin leader for over thirty years, will seek re-election to the one-year post at the party’s annual conference and set out his future plans at that time. “I will be allowing my name to go forward for the position of Uachtaran Shinn Féin (President of Sinn Féin),” Adams says in a speech at a meeting of the party’s lawmakers. “And if elected I will be setting out our priorities and in particular our planned process of generational change, including my own future intentions.”

“We have no ambition to be part of the system. Our ambition is to change it. That means we must be in government – North and South,” Adams says.

Reviled by many as the face of the IRA during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition lawmaker in the Irish Republic. Around 3,600 people were killed during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” three decades of sectarian bloodshed between pro-British Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists seeking a united Ireland that was ended by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Whenever Adams decides to step down, he will almost certainly hand over to a successor with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, say political analysts, making Sinn Féin a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic where it has never been in power. Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who has been at the forefront of a new breed of Sinn Féin politicians transforming the left-wing party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. Michelle O’Neill, another Sinn Féin lawmaker in her 40s, succeeded Martin McGuinness as leader in Northern Ireland shortly before the former IRA commander’s death in March 2017.

With McGuinness, Adams turned Sinn Féin into the dominant nationalist party in Northern Ireland and the third largest party south of the border. Adams said the previous month that he intended to lead the party into the next parliamentary election in the Irish republic where suspicion of Sinn Féin’s role in the Northern Ireland troubles still runs deep among the main political parties.

The far larger ruling Fine Gael and main opposition Fianna Fáil, a more natural ally, have ruled out governing with Sinn Féin but analysts say a change of leader could soften that stance. The next election is expected in the next 12 months.

(From: “Sinn Féin’s Adams to outline succession plan in November” by Padraic Halpin | Photo: Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaks at an event in Gormanstown, Ireland, September 5, 2017, REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)