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


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Birth of Chicago Mobster Charles Dean O’Banion

charles-o-banionCharles Dean O’Banion, better known as Dion O’Banion, is born to Irish Catholic parents in Maroa, Illinois on July 8, 1892. He graduates from the violent newspaper wars of early 20th century Chicago to become the chief bootlegging rival of mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio.

After the death of his mother in 1901, O’Banion moves with his family to a North Side neighborhood populated largely by other Irish Americans. The neighborhood, then known as Kilgubbin after an Irish place name and now called Goose Island, is notorious for its high crime rate, and O’Banion by all accounts fit easily into that environment. In his teens, he forms a street gang with Earl “Hymie” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran with whom he continues to associate throughout his life.

Chicago of the period is, according to Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, a “wide open city.” Wide open for rackets such as prostitution and gambling, and wide open for violent competition among gangsters. Bombings and murder are met with token official resistance but are often settled by uneasy truces among the rivals.

The violence extends to the press. O’Banion and his friends are “sluggers” for, first, the Chicago Tribune and later for the Tribune’s rival, the Chicago Examiner. Sluggers intimidate sellers and readers of the wrong newspaper. Although played for laughs in stage and film in productions such as The Front Page, the Chicago newspaper wars are quite violent and include lethal gunfights in saloons and on the streets.

In 1909, O’Banion is arrested and convicted of robbery and assault.

The newspapers wars are a good warm-up for O’Banion’s work as a bootlegger when Prohibition comes into effect in 1920. Chicago, with its large population of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe, is a town that loves its beer, wine and liquor. Almost from the start, O’Banion’s North Side Gang is at odds with the South Side outfit led at the time by Torrio.

About 1921, O’Banion and Torrio, who actively wants peace with his rival, works out a deal that seems to satisfy both the South Side gangsters and O’Banion’s group. O’Banion not only keeps the North Side and the Gold Coast, a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Michigan, but he even gets a slice of Cicero, a suburb controlled by Torrio and Capone on the South Side of Chicago, and they all share profits from a lakefront casino called The Ship.

Eventually the peace breaks down. O’Banion is enraged by efforts of a third gang, the Genna crime family’s West Side Gang, to expand its bootlegging and rackets operations into his territory. The Gennas are allied with Torrio’s South Side gang. O’Banion seals his fate when he refuses to forgive a gambling debt that one of the Gennas had racked up at The Ship.

On the morning of November 10, 1924, O’Banion is in his North Side flower shop, Schofield’s, a front for his mob activities. A Torrio associate from New York City, Frankie Yale, enters the shop with Genna gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. When O’Banion and Yale shake hands, Yale grasps O’Banion’s hand in a tight grip. At the same time, Scalise and Anselmi step aside and fire two bullets into O’Banion’s chest and two into his throat. One of the killers fires a final shot into the back of his head as he lies face down on the floor.

Since O’Banion is a major crime figure, the Catholic Church denies him burial in consecrated ground. However, a priest O’Banion has known since childhood recites the Lord’s Prayer and three Hail Marys in his memory. Despite this restriction, his funeral is the biggest anyone can remember. Among those attending are Al Capone and members of the South Side Gang. But there soon will be other funerals. The Beer Wars, as they become known, are just beginning.

Torrio escapes an assassination attempt in 1925 and turns over his operation to Capone, the greatest gangster of all. O’Banion’s friend and conspirator Hymie Weiss, who is fingered as one of those who tried to kill Torrio, is gunned down in 1926. In 1929, in an effort to permanently put down the North Side Gang, led then by Bugs Moran, seven of the North Side mobsters are killed in the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but Moran survives through the end of Prohibition in 1933.

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First Horse-Drawn Coach Service in Ireland

charles-bianconiCharles Bianconi, Italo-Irish entrepreneur, opens his first horse-drawn coach service, between Clonmel and Cahir, County Tipperary, a distance of 10 miles, on July 6, 1815.

Born Carlo Bianconi, in Tregolo, Costa Masnaga, Italy on September 24, 1786, he moves from an area poised to fall to Napoleon and travels to Ireland via England in 1802, just four years after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. At the time, British fear of continental invasion results in an acute sense of insecurity and additional restrictions on the admission of foreigners. He is christened Carlo but anglicises his name to Charles when he arrives in Ireland in 1802.

At the age of 16, Bianconi works as an engraver and printseller in Dublin, near Essex Street, under his sponsor, Andrea Faroni. In 1806 he sets up an engraving and print shop in Carrick-on-Suir, moving to Clonmel in 1815.

Bianconi eventually becomes famous for his innovations in transport and is twice elected mayor of Clonmel. He is the founder of public transportation in Ireland, at a time preceding railways. He establishes regular horse-drawn carriage services on various routes beginning in 1815. These are known as “Bianconi coaches” and the first service, Clonmel to Cahir, which takes five to eight hours by boat, takes only two hours by Bianconi’s carriage. Travel on a coach costs one penny farthing a mile.

Bianconi’s carriage services continue into the 1850s and later, by which time there are a number of railway services in the country. The Bianconi coaches continue to be well-patronised, by offering connections from various termini, one of the first and few examples of an integrated transport system in Ireland. By 1865 Bianconi’s annual income is about £35,000.

Bianconi also establishes a series of inns, the Bianconi Inns, some of which still exist; in Piltown, County Kilkenny and Killorglin, County Kerry.

In 1832 Bianconi marries Eliza Hayes, the daughter of a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. They have three children. Bianconi dies on September 22, 1875 at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary.

Having donated land to the parish of Boherlahan for the construction of a parish church, Bianconi wishes to be buried on the Church grounds. He, and his family, are buried in a side chapel, separate from the parish church in Boherlahan, approximately 5 miles from Cashel, County Tipperary.


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Death of Charles O’Brien, 5th Viscount Clare

charles_o_brien Charles O’Brien, 5th Viscount Clare, is mortally wounded in the Battle of Ramilles on May 23, 1706. He is the son of Daniel O’Brien, 3rd Viscount Clare and Philadelphia Lennard. He marries Charlotte Bulkeley, daughter of Henry Bulkeley and Sophia Stuart, on January 9, 1696, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. Henry Bulkeley is the “Master of the Household” for Kings Charles II and James II. Charles O’Brien and Charlotte Bulkeley have two children, Charles O’Brien, 6th Viscount Clare (March 27, 1699 – September 9, 1761) and Henry O’Brien (born February 12, 1701).

The family fights as part of the Jacobite Irish Army during the War of the Two Kings, before going into exile in the Flight of the Wild Geese. Charles succeeds his brother, Daniel O’Brien, 4th Viscount Clare, to the title as 5th Viscount Clare in the Jacobite Peerage on his brother’s death from a mortal wound received in the Battle of Marsaglia in Italy on October 4, 1693. Charles is transferred from the Queen’s Dismounted Dragoons where he is a colonel, to the command of O’Brien’s Regiment on April 6, 1696. Later in the year he leads the regiment in the siege of Valenza in Lombardy, and the next year they are stationed with the army at Meuse.

By 1698 over one third of King James’ army is either dead or crippled, and when the Treaty of Ryswick ends the war between Louis and William, James’ soldiers are disbanded, unemployed, and homeless. Many become beggars but others join the Irish Brigade in the Spanish army, while others travel to Austria and enter the Catholic Corps.

Hostilities are renewed and Clare’s Regiment is assigned to the Army of Germany for two years in 1701-02. At the Battle of Cremona in 1702, the Irishmen defend the town against Prince Eugene and the imperial army. The attack is to be a surprise but the Wild Geese foil the attempt. The following year Lord Clare is promoted to brevet Brigadier of Infantry on April 2, 1703. A few months later on September 20, 1703, the unit takes part in the successful Battle of Hochstedt, better known as the Battle of Blenheim. A year later the unit is involved with the unsuccessful battle on August 13, 1704 at the second Battle of Blenheim. Although Clare’s Regiment experiences ups and downs, they are always admired. Two months after Blenheim, Charles rises to the brevet rank of Marshal-de-Camp on October 26, 1704, and a year later he is assigned to the Army of the Moselle under the Marshel de Villars. Clare’s Regiment fights in the disastrous Battle of Ramillies on May 23, 1706, where they distinguish themselves with great glory, but Lord Clare is mortally wounded and dies at Brussels, Belgium.

Due to the great service the O’Brien family has given to France, and having risked all, King Louis XIV makes sure that the regiment is kept in the family, and appoints Lt. Col. Murrough O’Brien (of the Carrigonnell O’Brien’s) as its commander until the minor Charles comes of age.


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Birth of Explorer Robert O’Hara Burke

robert-o'hara-burkeRobert O’Hara Burke, Irish soldier and police officer who achieves fame as an Australian explorer, is born in St. Clerens, County Galway on May 6, 1821. He is the leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition which is the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north.

Burke is the second of three sons of James Hardiman Burke, an officer in the British army 7th Royal Fusiliers, and Anne Louisa Burke (nee O’Hara).

Burke enters the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in May 1835. In December 1836 he fails his probationary exam and goes to Belgium to further his education. In 1841, he enters the Austrian army and spends most of his time posted to northern Italy. Towards the end of 1847 he suffers health problems and ultimately resigns from the Austrian army in June 1848.

After returning to Ireland in 1848, he joins the Irish Constabulary (later the Royal Irish Constabulary). He does his cadet training at Phoenix Park Depot in Dublin between November 1849 and January 1850. At the end of 1850 he transfers to the Mounted Police in Dublin.

Burke emigrates to Australia, arriving in Hobart, Tasmania on February 12, 1853 and promptly sails for Melbourne. On April 1, 1853 he joins the recently established Victoria Police force.

After the South Australian explorer John McDouall Stuart reaches the centre of Australia, the South Australian parliament offers a reward of £2,000 for the promotion of an expedition to cross the continent from south to north, generally following Stuart’s route. In June 1860, Burke is appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition with William John Wills, his third-in-command, as surveyor and astronomical observer.

The expedition leaves Melbourne on August 20, 1860 with a total of 19 men, 27 camels and 23 horses. They reach Menindee on September 23, 1860 where several people resign.

Cooper Creek, 400 miles further on, is reached on November 11, 1860 by the advance group, the remainder being intended to catch up. After a break, Burke decides to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria, leaving on December 16, 1860. William Brahe is left in charge of the remaining party. The small team of Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray reach the mangroves on the estuary of the Flinders River, near where the town of Normanton now stands, on February 9, 1861. They never see open ocean due to flooding rains and swamps.

Already weakened by starvation and exposure, progress on the return journey is slow and hampered by the tropical monsoon downpours of the wet season. Gray dies four days before they reach the rendezvous at Cooper Creek. The other three rest for a day when they bury him. They eventually reach the rendezvous point on April 21, 1861, nine hours after the rest of the party had given up waiting and left, leaving a note and some food, as they have not been relieved by the party supposed to be returning from Menindee.

Burke’s party attempts to reach Mount Hopeless, the furthest outpost of pastoral settlement in South Australia, which is closer than Menindee, but fail and return to Cooper Creek. While waiting for rescue Wills dies of exhaustion and starvation. Soon after, Burke also dies, at a place now called Burke’s Waterhole on Cooper Creek in South Australia. The exact date of Burke’s death is uncertain, but has generally been accepted to be June 28, 1861.

King survives with the help of Aborigines until he is rescued in September by Alfred William Howitt. Howitt buries Burke and Wills before returning to Melbourne. In 1862 Howitt returns to Cooper Creek and disinters Burke and Wills, taking them first to Adelaide and then by steamer to Melbourne where they are laid in state for two weeks. On January 23, 1863 Burke and Wills receive a State Funeral and are buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. Ironically, on that same day John McDouall Stuart and his companions, having successfully completed the south-north crossing, are received back at a large ceremony in Adelaide.


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Birth of Irish Composer Gráinne Mulvey

grainne-mulveyIrish composer Gráinne Mulvey is born on March 10, 1966 in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin. Her music is timbrally and rhythmically complex — a legacy of her work in the electroacoustic field. Her microtonally-inflected language derives ultimately from the natural harmonic series, placing her somewhat in the spectral tradition.

Mulvey studies with Eric Sweeney at Waterford Regional Technical College, Hormoz Farhat at Trinity College Dublin and Agustín Fernández at Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1999 she gains a DPhil in Composition at the University of York under Nicola LeFanu. In 2001 she is appointed Head of Composition at Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama.

Mulvey is appointed as one of the Course Directors of the IMRO Summer School of Composition in 2014. In 2001, 2010 and 2011, she was on the adjudicator’s panel for the Guido d’Arezzo Composers’ Composition Competition in Italy. She has curated concerts for the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland in 2011 and 2012, the Association of Irish Composers in May 2016 and a retrospective concert of her work at The Carlow Arts Festival in June 2016.

Mulvey’s music has been widely performed both in Ireland and abroad and her works have been broadcast by radio stations across the globe. One of her earliest works Étude, for piano (1994), is selected for that year’s International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, an honour that is to be repeated with 2004’s orchestral work Scorched Earth, and in 2015 with Diffractions for orchestra, in Slovenia. She is a featured composer in the 2007 Horizons concert series, with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Robert Houlihan, performing three of her orchestral works. She has the distinction of being selected for the ISCM World Music Days in consecutive years with Akanos (Vilnius, Lithuania, 2008 and Växjö, Sweden, 2009).

In April 2010, Mulvey is elected to membership of Aosdána, the State-recognised affiliation of creative artists in Ireland. A CD Akanos & Other Works, dedicated to her recent work, is released in February 2014 on the Navona label.


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Birth of Author Eilís Dillon

eilis-dillonEilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, is born in Galway, County Galway on March 7, 1920. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine (née Plunkett), who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway City before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in the Irish language and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Her family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and 17 years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council 1974–1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust. In 1987 she and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993.

Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.


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Birth of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, is born on February 16, 1902 in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo. She records several 78 rpm records in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title.

Delia’s father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. John encouraged Delia’s interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Delia is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Delia sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941 Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Delia becomes one of those who assist Hugh O’Flaherty in hiding Jews and escapes allied soldiers from the Nazis. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy. In 1946 she is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while she is living in Ottawa, Delia makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. The Kiernans purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Delia’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin. She dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records upwards of 100 songs during her lifetime.