seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Noël Christopher Browne, Irish politician

Noël Christopher Browne, Irish politician who serves as Minister for Health from 1948 to 1951 and Leader of the National Progressive Democrats from 1958 to 1963, is born at Bath Street in Waterford, County Waterford, on December 20, 1915. He holds the distinction of being one of only seven TDs to be appointed to the cabinet on the start of their first term in the Dáil.

Browne grows up in the Bogside area of Derry. The Browne family also lives in Athlone and Ballinrobe for a period of time. His mother Mary Therese (née Cooney) is born in 1885 in Hollymount, County Mayo. His father Joseph Brown, an Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant, later works as an inspector for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and, partly as a result of this work, all of the Browne family becomes infected with tuberculosis. Both parents die of the disease during the 1920s. His father is the first to die, leaving only £100 behind to support a wife and seven children. Fearing that if she and the children remain in Ireland they will be forced into a workhouse, Mary sells all their possessions and takes the family to London. Within two days of their arrival, Mary is dead, later buried in a pauper’s grave. Of her seven children, six contract tuberculosis. Noël is only one of two Browne children to survive into adulthood after those bouts with TB.

In 1929, Browne is admitted free of charge to St. Anthony’s, a preparatory school in Eastbourne, England. He then wins a scholarship to Beaumont College, the Jesuit public school near Old Windsor, Berkshire, where he befriends Neville Chance, a wealthy boy from Dublin. Neville’s father, the eminent surgeon Arthur Chance, subsequently pays Browne’s way through medical school at Trinity College Dublin.

In 1940, while still a student, Browne suffers a serious relapse of tuberculosis. His treatment at a sanatorium in Midhurst, Sussex is paid for by the Chance family. He recovers, passes his medical exams in 1942, and starts his career as a medical intern at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, where he works under Bethel Solomons. He subsequently works in numerous sanatoria throughout Ireland and England, witnessing the ravages of the disease. He soon concludes that politics is the only way in which he can make an attack on the scourge of tuberculosis.

The poverty and tragedy that had shaped Browne’s childhood deeply affects him. He considers both his survival and his level of education a complete fluke, a stroke of random chance that saved him when he was seemingly destined to die unknown and in poverty like the rest of his family. He finds this completely distasteful and is moved to enter politics as a means to ensure no one else would suffer the same fate that had befallen his family.

Browne joins the new Irish republican party Clann na Poblachta and is elected to Dáil Éireann for the Dublin South-East constituency at the 1948 Irish general election. To the surprise of many, party leader, Seán MacBride, chooses him to be one of the party’s two ministers in the new government. He becomes one of the few TDs appointed a Minister on their first day in Dáil Éireann, when he is appointed Minister for Health.

A ‘White Paper’ on proposed healthcare reforms had been prepared by the previous government, and results in the 1947 Health Act. In February 1948, Browne becomes Minister for Health and starts the reforms advocated by the Paper and introduced by the Act.

The health reforms coincide with the development of a new vaccine and of new drugs (e.g., BCG and penicillin) that help to treat a previously untreatable group of medical conditions. Browne introduces mass free screening for tuberculosis sufferers and launches a huge construction program to build new hospitals and sanitoria, financed by the income and accumulated investments from the Department of Health-controlled Hospital Sweeps funds. This, along with the introduction of Streptomycin, helps dramatically reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in Ireland.

As Minister for Health Browne comes into conflict with the bishops of the Catholic Church and the medical profession over the Mother and Child Scheme. This plan, also introduced by the 1947 Health Act, provides for free state-funded healthcare for all mothers and children aged under 16, with no means test, a move which is regarded as radical at the time in Ireland, but not in the rest of Europe. Virtually all doctors in private practice oppose the scheme, because it would undermine the “fee for service” model on which their income depended.

The Church hierarchy, which controls many hospitals, vigorously opposes the expansion of “socialised medicine” in the Irish republic. They claim that the Mother and Child Scheme interferes with parental rights, and fear that the provision of non-religious medical advice to mothers will lead to birth control contrary to Catholic teaching. They greatly dislike Browne, seeing him as a “Trinity Catholic,” one who has defied the Church’s ruling that the faithful should not attend Trinity College Dublin, which had been founded by Protestants and for many years did not allow Catholics to study there.

Under pressure from bishops, the coalition government backs away from the Mother and Child Scheme and forces Browne’s resignation as Minister for Health. Following his departure from government, he embarrasses his opponents by arranging for The Irish Times to publish Taoiseach John A. Costello‘s and MacBride’s correspondence with the Catholic hierarchy, which details their capitulation to the bishops.

The controversy over the Mother and Child Scheme leads to the fall of the coalition government in which Browne had served as a Minister. But Church opposition to socialised medicine continues under the subsequent Fianna Fáil-led government. The hierarchy does not accept a no-means-test mother-and-infant scheme even when Fianna Fáil reduces the age limit from sixteen years to six weeks, and the government again backs down.

After his resignation as Minister for Health, Browne leaves Clann na Poblachta, but is re-elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD from Dublin South-East in the subsequent election.

Browne joins Fianna Fáil in 1953, but loses his Dáil seat at the 1954 Irish general election. He fails to be selected as a candidate for the 1957 Irish general election and he resigns from the party. He is re-elected at that election for Dublin South-East as an Independent TD.

In 1958, Browne founds the National Progressive Democrats with Jack McQuillan. He holds onto his seat at the 1961 Irish general election, but in 1963, he and McQuillan join the Labour Party, disbanding the National Progressive Democrats. However, he losess his seat at the 1965 Irish general election.

Browne is re-elected as a Labour Party TD at the 1969 Irish general election, again for Dublin South-East. He does not seek a nomination by the Labour Party for the 1973 Irish general election, but instead wins a seat in Seanad Éireann for Dublin University. He remains in the Seanad until the 1977 Irish general election, when he gains the Dublin Artane seat as an Independent Labour TD, having again failed to get the Party nomination.

In 1977 Browne is the first Irish parliamentarian to call for law reforms in regards to homosexuality, which is illegal at the time, and in 1979 is one of the few Irish politicians to attend the opening of the Hirschfeld Centre, Dublin’s first full-time LGBT community space.

Upon its formation, Browne joins the new Socialist Labour Party and is briefly its only TD, securing election for Dublin North-Central at the 1981 Irish general election. He retires from politics at the February 1982 Irish general election.

In 1990, a number of left-wing representatives within the Labour Party, led by Michael D. Higgins, approach Browne and suggest that he should be the party’s candidate in the presidential election due later that year. Though in failing health, Browne agrees. However, the offer horrifies party leader Dick Spring and his close associates for two reasons. Firstly, the leadership had secretly decided to run Mary Robinson, a barrister and former senator. Secondly, many around Spring are “appalled” at the idea of running Browne, believing he has “little or no respect for the party” and is “likely in any event to self-destruct as a candidate.” When Spring informs Browne by telephone that the party’s Administrative Council has chosen Robinson over him, Browne hangs up the telephone.

Browne spends the remaining seven years of his life constantly criticising Robinson who had gone on to win the election, thus becoming the seventh President of Ireland, and who is considered highly popular during her term. During the campaign he also indicates support for the rival Fine Gael candidate, Austin Currie.

After retiring from politics, Browne moves with his wife Phyllis to Baile na hAbhann, County Galway. He dies at the age of 81 in the Regional Hospital, Galway, on May 21, 1997. He is buried in a small graveyard near Baile na hAbhann.


Leave a comment

Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


Leave a comment

Birth of John Martin Hayes, Priest & Founder of Muintir na Tíre

John Martin Hayes, Irish Catholic priest and the founder of Muintir na Tíre, a national rural community development organisation, is born on November 11, 1887, in an Irish National Land League hut at Murroe, County Limerick.

Hayes is born into a family languishing in poverty. One of ten siblings, seven of Hayes’ brothers and sisters die of malnutrition and disease over a twelve-year period. The family had been evicted from Lord Cloncurry‘s estate in 1872 for non-payment of rent, forcing them into destitution. The family returns to the estate in 1894.

Hayes is educated by the Jesuits at Crescent College, Limerick and thereafter studies for the priesthood in St. Patrick’s College, Thurles. In 1907 he goes to the Irish College in Paris where he is ordained in 1913. He enjoys this time in France greatly, a period highlighted by the beatification of Saint Joan of Arc in 1909. From 1915 to 1924 he works in Liverpool before returning to Ireland to serve as curate in Castleiney and later in Tipperary Town. Previous to 1916, he is a supporter of the Irish Volunteers, and his brother Mick becomes a leading member of the Limerick Irish Republican Army, however, he effectively misses the Irish revolutionary period as he is sent to work in Liverpool between 1915 and 1924.

During the 1920s Hayes becomes an admirer of Benito Mussolini, with whom he is granted an audience during a visit to Rome in 1930. He is intrigued by corporatism and comes to believe it can uplift rural communities. Similarly, he is influenced by continental movements such as the Belgian Boerenbond league, which encourages rural inhabitants to form cooperatives.

Hayes comes to national prominence with the foundation of Muintir na Tíre in 1931, a rural development organisation which has core principles of neighbourliness, self-help and self-sufficiency. It is to act as a rural self-help group based on collective parish organisation with a strong emphasis on the teaching of the papal encyclicals Rerum novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo anno (1931). He is successfully able to draw on the power of the media, Irish newspapers and radio, to promote Muintir na Tíre and quickly becomes a figure of national prominence in doing so. In promoting and developing Muintir na Tíre Hayes resists calls in some quarters to limit the membership to Catholics, remarking “this country is becoming so Catholic it forgets to be Christian.” Nonetheless, under his leadership, there is eventually an overlap in membership between Muintir na Tíre and the Catholic fraternal organisation the Knights of Saint Columbanus.

Hayes is appointed parish priest of Bansha and Kilmoyler in County Tipperary in 1946. Due largely to his endeavours, a factory, Bansha Rural Industries, is started and enjoys some success producing preserves for the Irish home market. Bansha is to the forefront in developing many Muintir na Tíre initiatives and for a time in the 1950s enjoys the soubriquet of The Model Parish.

A lifelong teetotaller, a highlight of Hayes’ career is his address to the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in Croke Park in June 1949 to celebrate their 50th year of operation. The event is the largest Catholic gathering in Dublin since the Eucharistic Congress of 1932.

Hayes spearheads many initiatives including rural electrification, the “Parish Plan for Agriculture,” and the setting up of small industry in rural areas in an attempt to stop emigration. He is later made a canon of his cathedral chapter.

Hayes dies on January 30, 1957 in a Tipperary nursing home following a minor operation. His funeral in Bansha is a national occasion, attended by leaders of Church and State. His grave is at the rear of the Church of the Annunciation, Bansha. He is later commemorated on an Irish postage stamp.


Leave a comment

Death of Author Benedict “Ben” Kiely

Benedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.

Kiely is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children. In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Nationalist Joseph Mary Plunkett

joseph-mary-plunkettJoseph Mary Plunkett, Irish nationalist, poet, journalist, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, is born at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin on November 21, 1887.

Both his parents come from wealthy backgrounds, and his father, George Noble Plunkett, has been made a papal count. Despite being born into a life of privilege, young Joe Plunkett does not have an easy childhood.

Plunkett contracts tuberculosis at a young age. This is to be a lifelong burden. His mother is unwilling to believe his health is as bad as it is. He spends part of his youth in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean and North Africa. He spends time in Algiers where he studies Arabic literature and language and composes poetry in Arabic. He is educated at the Catholic University School and by the Jesuits at Belvedere College in Dublin and later at Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire, England, where he acquires some military knowledge from the Officers’ Training Corps. Throughout his life, Plunkett takes an active interest in Irish heritage and the Irish language, and also studies Esperanto. He is one of the founders of the Irish Esperanto League. He joins the Gaelic League and begins studying with Thomas MacDonagh, with whom he forms a lifelong friendship. The two are both poets with an interest in theatre, and both are early members of the Irish Volunteers, joining their provisional committee. Plunkett’s interest in Irish nationalism spreads throughout his family, notably to his younger brothers George and John, as well as his father, who allows his property in Kimmage, south Dublin, to be used as a training camp for young men who wish to escape conscription in Britain during the First World War. Men there are instead trained to fight for Ireland.

Sometime in 1915 Plunkett joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and soon after is sent to Germany to meet with Roger Casement, who is negotiating with the German government on behalf of Ireland. Casement’s role as emissary is self-appointed, and, as he is not a member of the IRB, the organisation’s leadership wishes to have one of their own contact Germany to negotiate German aid for an uprising the following year. Plunkett is seeking, but not limiting himself to, a shipment of arms. Casement, on the other hand, spends most of his energies recruiting Irish prisoners of war in Germany to form a brigade to fight instead for Ireland. Some nationalists in Ireland see this as a fruitless endeavour, and prefer to seek weapons. Plunkett successfully gets a promise of a German arms shipment to coincide with the rising.

Plunkett is one of the original members of the IRB Military Committee that is responsible for planning the Easter Rising, and it is largely his plan that is followed. Shortly before the rising is to begin, Plunkett is hospitalised following a turn for the worse in his health. He has an operation on his neck glands days before Easter and has to struggle out of bed to take part in what is to follow. Still bandaged, he takes his place in the General Post Office with several other of the rising’s leaders, including Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke, though his health prevents him from being terribly active. His energetic aide-de-camp is Michael Collins.

Following the surrender Plunkett is held in Kilmainham Gaol, and faces a court-martial. Seven hours before his execution by firing squad at the age of 28, he is married in the prison chapel to his sweetheart Grace Gifford, a Protestant convert to Catholicism, whose sister, Muriel, had years before also converted and married his best friend Thomas MacDonagh, who is also executed for his role in the Easter Rising. Plunkett is executed by firing squad on May 4, 1916 and is the fourth and youngest signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic to be executed.

Plunkett’s brothers, George Oliver Plunkett and Jack Plunkett, join him in the Easter Rising and later become important Irish Republican Army (IRA) men. His father’s cousin, Horace Plunkett, is a Protestant and unionist who seeks to reconcile unionists and nationalists. Horace Plunkett’s home is burned down by the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.

The main railway station in Waterford City is named after Plunkett as is Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun. Plunkett barracks in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare is also named after him.


Leave a comment

Founding of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome

pontifical-irish-collegeThe Pontifical Irish College, a Roman Catholic seminary for the training and education of priests, is founded in Rome, Italy, on November 6, 1628.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII sanctions the foundation of an Irish college in Rome, and assigns a large sum of money as the nucleus of an endowment. However the pressing needs of the Irish chieftains make him think that, under the circumstances, the money might as well be used for religion by supplying the Irish Catholics with the sinews of war in Ireland as by founding a college for them at Rome.

The project is revived in 1625 by the Irish bishops, in an address to Pope Urban VIII. Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, who is Cardinal Protector of Ireland, resolves to realize at his own expense the desire expressed to the pope by the Irish bishops. A house is rented opposite Sant’Isodoro a Capo le Case and six students go into residence January 1, 1628. Eugene Callanan, Archdeacon of Cashel, is the first rector, Father Luke Wadding, OFM being a sort of supervisor. Cardinal Ludovisi dies in 1632 and as he is of a princely family with a large patrimony, he makes provision in his will for the college. It is to have an income of one thousand crowns a year, a house is to be purchased for it, and he leaves a vineyard as Castel Gandolfo where the students might pass their villeggiatura. The cardinal’s will directs that the college should be placed under the charge of the Jesuits. Both the heirs and Wadding suspect that provision and disputed it. A protracted lawsuit is finally decided in 1635 in favour of the Jesuits.

On February 8, 1635, the Jesuits take charge of the college and govern it until financial difficulties force them to give up control in September 1772. An Italian priest, Abbate Luigi Cuccagni, is made rector. The rectorate of Cuccagni comes to an end in 1798, when the college is closed by order of Napoleon.

Dr. Michael Blake, Bishop of Dromore, who is the last student to leave the college at its dissolution in 1798, returns a quarter of a century later to arrange for its revival, which is effected by a brief of Pope Leo XII, dated February 18, 1826. He becomes the first rector of the restored college, and among the first students who seek admission is Francis Mahoney of Cork, known to the literary world as Father Prout. Having set the college well to work, Blake returns to Ireland and is succeeded by Dr. Boylan, of Maynooth, who soon resigns and dies in 1830. He is succeeded by a young priest, later Cardinal Paul Cullen.

Dr. Cullen is succeeded by Dr. Tobias Kirby, known for his holiness of life. He governs the college for more than forty years. His successor is Michael Kelly, later coadjutor to the Archbishop of Sydney.

In 2011, under orders from Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, leads a root and branch review of all structures and processes at the college. He is assisted in the visitation report by then Archbishop of Baltimore and now Cardinal Edwin O’Brien and Msgr. Francis Kelly of the Northern American College in Rome. The report is highly critical of the college and, as a result of which, three Irish members of the staff are sent home and a fourth resigns.

In 2012, four Irish archbishops, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, and Dr. Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel, are sent a copy of the visitation report by the Vatican. A response prepared for them says “a deep prejudice appears to have coloured the visitation and from the outset and it led to the hostile tone and content of the report.”

Today the Pontifical Irish College serves as a residence for clerical students from all over the world. Every year over 250 Irish couples choose the college chapel as a means to marry in Rome. It organises events for the Irish and wider international community who are currently residing in Rome and has over the years become an unofficial centre for Irish visitors to Rome seeking advice and information.


Leave a comment

Birth of Actor Richard Harris

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, actor, singer, songwriter, producer, director, and writer, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 1, 1930. He is brought up in a middle class and staunchly Roman Catholic family.

Harris is schooled by the Jesuits at Crescent College. He is a talented rugby player, however his athletic career is cut short when he comes down with tuberculosis in his teens. After recovering from tuberculosis, Harris moves to Britain, wanting to become a director. Unable to find any suitable training courses, he enrolls in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) to learn acting.

Harris makes his film debut in 1958 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. Harris’ first starring role is in the film This Sporting Life (1963), as a bitter young coal miner, Frank Machin, who becomes an acclaimed rugby league football player. For his role, Harris wins Best Actor in 1963 at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination. He also wins notice for his role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Major Dundee (1965), as an Irish immigrant who becomes a Confederate cavalryman during the American Civil War.

Harris performs the role of King Arthur in the film adaptation of the musical play Camelot (1967). He continues to appear on stage in this role for many years, including a successful Broadway run in 1981–1982. In 1970 British exhibitors vote him the 9th most popular star at the UK box office.

Other film performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informant in the coal-mining tale The Molly Maguires (1970), also starring Sean Connery. Harris stars in Cromwell (1970), a film based on the life of Oliver Cromwell who leads the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s.

Harris’ film career collapses after the late 1970s and in the next decade he is rarely seen on screen, although he continues to act on stage. During his career Harris appears in two films which win the Academy Award for Best Picture. First, as the gunfighter “English Bob” in the Western Unforgiven (1992); second, as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator (2000).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002, at the age of 72. He was in a coma in his final three days. Harris’ body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.