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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Death of Thomas “Buck” Whaley

Thomas Whaley, Irish gambler and member of the Irish House of Commons commonly known as Buck Whaley or Jerusalem Whaley, dies on November 2, 1800, in England.

Whaley is born in Dublin on December 15, 1766, the eldest surviving son of the landowner, magistrate and former Member of Parliament Richard Chapell Whaley. At the age of sixteen, he is sent to Europe on the Grand tour, accompanied by a tutor. He settles in Paris for some time, maintaining both a country residence and town house, but is forced to leave Paris when his cheque for the amount of £14,000, to settle gambling debts accrued in one night of gambling, is refused by his bankers. Following his return to Dublin, Whaley, at the age of eighteen, is elected to the Irish House of Commons in 1785 representing the constituency of Newcastle in County Dublin.

While dining with William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster at Leinster House, wagers totaling £15,000 are offered that Whaley cannot travel to Jerusalem and back within two years and provide proof of his success. The reasoning of those offering the bets is based on the belief that, as the region was part of the Ottoman Empire and had a reputation for widespread banditry, it will be too dangerous for travelers and it will be unlikely that Whaley can complete the journey.

Whaley embarks from Dublin on October 8, 1788. He sails first to Deal, Kent, where he is joined by a companion, a Captain Wilson, and then on to Gibraltar. In Gibraltar, his party is joined by another military officer, Captain Hugh Moore. The party sets sail for the port of Smyrna, although Wilson is prevented from travelling any further due to rheumatic fever. The remaining pair make an overland journey from there to Constantinople, arriving in December.

The British ambassador in Constantinople introduces Whaley to the Vizier Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Pasha. Taking a liking to Whaley, Hasan Pasha provides him with permits to visit Jerusalem. Whaley’s party leaves Constantinople on January 21, 1789 by ship and sail to Acre, Israel. He encounters the Wāli of Acre and Galillee, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. Al-Jazzar, notoriously known as “The Butcher” in the region he rules, takes a liking to Whaley and, though he dismisses the documents issued in Constantinople as worthless, he permits Whaley to continue his journey.

Whaley and his companions make their way overland to Jerusalem, arriving on January 28. During his visit, he stays at a Franciscan monastery, the Convent of Terra Sancta. It is a signed certificate from the superior of this institution, along with detailed observations of the buildings of Jerusalem, that provide the proof needed to prove the success of his journey. They stay for little over a month before returning overland to Ireland.

Whaley arrives back in Dublin in the summer of 1789 to great celebrations and collects the winnings of the wager. The trip costs him a total of £8,000, leaving him a profit of £7,000.

Following his Jerusalem exploit, Whaley remains in Dublin for two years and later spends time in London and travelling in Europe, including Paris during the Revolutionary period. Due to mounting debts, he is forced to sell much of his estate in the early 1790s and these financial problems also lead to his departure from Dublin.

Thomas Whaley dies on November 2, 1800 in the Cheshire town of Knutsford, while travelling from Liverpool to London. The cause of death is attributed to rheumatic fever, although a popular story circulated in Ireland is that he is stabbed in a jealous rage by one of two sisters, both of whom are objects of his attentions.


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Birth of Robert Ballagh, Artist, Painter & Designer

Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, artist, painter and designer, is born in Dublin on September 22, 1943. His painting style is strongly influenced by pop art. He is particularly well known for his hyperealistic renderings of well known Irish literary, historical or establishment figures.

Ballagh grows up in a ground-floor flat on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. He studies at Bolton Street College of Technology and becomes an atheist while attending Blackrock College. Before turning to art as a profession, he is a professional musician with the Irish showband Chessmen. He meets artist Michael Farrell during this period, and Farrell recruits him to assist with a large mural commission, which is painted at Ardmore Studios.

Ballagh represents Ireland at the 1969 Biennale de Paris. Among the theatre sets he has designed are sets for Riverdance, I’ll Go On, Gate Theatre (1985), Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame (1991) and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé (1998). He also designs over 70 Irish postage stamps and the last series of Irish banknotes, “Series C,” before the introduction of the euro. He is a member of Aosdána and his paintings are held in several public collections of Irish painting including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and Nuremberg‘s Albrecht Dürer House.

In 1991, he co-ordinates the 75th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, during which he claims he is harassed by the Special Branch of the Garda Síochána.

He is the president of the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, which promotes international republicanism. It is based at the new Pearse centre at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, which is the birthplace of Pádraig Pearse in 1879.

In July 2011 it is reported that he might consider running for the 2011 Irish Presidential election with the backing of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. A Sinn Féin source confirms there has been “very informal discussions” and that Ballagh’s nomination is “a possibility” but “very loose at this stage.” However, on July 25 Ballagh rules out running in the election, saying that he has never considered being a candidate. His discussions with the parties had been about the election “in general” and he has no ambitions to run for political office.

That same month, Ballagh breaks ranks with his colleagues in the travelling production of Riverdance in their decision to perform in Israel. He is an active member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which insists that artists and academics participate in boycotts of Israeli businesses and cultural institutions.

In July 2012, Ballagh says he is “ashamed and profoundly depressed” at the en masse closure of Irish galleries and museums. He cites an example of some Americans and Canadians on holiday in Ireland. “They described most of the National Gallery as being closed along with several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I’m glad they didn’t bother going out to the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham because that’s closed too. At the point I met them, they were returning from Galway where they had found the Nora Barnacle Museum closed too.” He condemns the hypocrisy of political leaders, saying, “I know arts funding is not a big issue for people struggling to put food on the table but we are talking about the soul of the nation.”


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Birth of Irish Novelist Maeve Binchy

maeve-binchyMaeve Binchy Snell, known as Maeve Binchy, Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, columnist, and speaker best known for her sympathetic and often humorous portrayal of small-town life in Ireland, is born on May 28, 1939, in Dalkey, County Dublin.

Binchy is the oldest of four children born to William and Maureen (née Blackmore) Binchy. Educated at St. Anne’s, Dún Laoghaire, and later at Holy Child Convent, Killiney, she goes on to study at University College Dublin, where she earns a bachelor’s degree in history. She works as a teacher of French, Latin, and history at various girls’ schools.

A 1963 trip to Israel profoundly affects both her career and her faith. One Sunday, attempting to find the location of the Last Supper, she climbs a mountainside to a cavern guarded by an Israeli soldier. She weeps with despair and the soldier asks, “What’ya expect, ma’am – a Renaissance table set for 13?” She replies, “Yes! That’s just what I did expect.” This experience causes her to renounce her Catholic faith and eventually turn to atheism.

In 1968, Binchy joins the staff at The Irish Times, and works there as a writer, columnist, the first Women’s Page editor, and the London editor reporting for the paper from London before returning to Ireland.

Binchy, tall and rather stout, never considers herself to be attractive. She ultimately encounters the love of her life, children’s author Gordon Snell, while recording a piece for Woman’s Hour in London. Their friendship blossoms into a cross-border romance, with her in Ireland and him in London, until she eventually secures a job in London through The Irish Times. They are married in 1977 and eventually return to live in Dalkey, not far from where she had grown up.

In all, Binchy publishes 16 novels, four short-story collections, a play, and a novella. A 17th novel, A Week in Winter, is published posthumously. Her literary career begins with two books of short stories, Central Line (1978) and Victoria Line (1980). She publishes her debut novel Light a Penny Candle in 1982.

Most of Binchy’s stories are set in Ireland, dealing with the tensions between urban and rural life, the contrasts between England and Ireland, and the dramatic changes in Ireland between World War II and the present day. Her books have been translated into 37 languages.

In 2002, Binchy suffers a health crisis related to a heart condition, which inspires her to write Heart and Soul. The book about a heart failure clinic in Dublin and the people involved with it, reflects many of her own experiences and observations in the hospital.

Binchy dies on July 30, 2012, at the age of 73, in a Dublin hospital with her husband at her side. She had suffered from various maladies, including painful osteoarthritis, which results in a hip operation. A month before her death she suffers a severe spinal infection, and finally succumbs to a heart attack. Just ahead of that evening’s Tonight with Vincent Browne and TV3‘s late evening news, Vincent Browne and then Alan Cantwell, who respectively anchor these shows, announce to Irish television viewers that Binchy has died earlier in the evening.

Despite being an atheist, Binchy is given a traditional Requiem Mass which takes place at the Church of the Assumption, in her hometown of Dalkey. She is later cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium.