seamus dubhghaill

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


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Muhammad Ali Fights Al Lewis in Dublin

muhammad-ali-and-al-lewisMuhammad Ali fights Al “Blue” Lewis in Dublin on July 19, 1972 and defeats him via a technical knockout (TKO) in the eleventh round.

After losing to Joe Frazier in March 1971, Ali goes on something of a world tour, fighting 13 times in six countries before defeating Frazier in a rematch in January 1974.

The promotion is the brainchild of a character from County Kerry named Butty Sugrue, known throughout Ireland as a circus strongman, whose alleged claim to fame is pulling double-decker buses by a rope in his teeth. Dublin journalists laugh at him when he first announces his intentions.

But despite the scepticism, the fight is arranged for July 19, 1972. As soon as he steps off the plane at Dublin Airport, Ali, ever the showman, immediately captures the heart of a nation by announcing that he has Irish roots. In the 1860s, Abe Grady left his native Ennis in County Clare and emigrated to the United States. In Kentucky, he met and married an emancipated slave. A century later Abe Grady’s great grandson Muhammad Ali touches down in Dublin.

In the week leading up to the fight Ali meets people from all walks of life in Dublin. He spends time with celebrities, including actor Peter O’Toole, and playfully spars with director John Huston, whose boxing movie, Fat City, is screened with both Ali and Lewis in attendance.

Ali also meets politicians, including Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Leinster House and political activist Bernadette Devlin. The Cork Examiner comments on how popular Ali has proven with politicians in Ireland. “Not since the late President John F. Kennedy was in Dublin in 1963 has a visitor from abroad been given as big a welcome at Leinster House as that accorded to Muhammad Ali.”

Ali is always about so much more than boxing, and that week in Dublin is another case in point, as the fight itself is not a classic. He has a cold and is wary of Lewis, who is a dangerous fighter and a man who had previously served time in prison for manslaughter. Ali who, prior to the bout predicts that his opponent’s chances of victory lay somewhere between “slim and none,” eventually wins with a TKO in the eleventh round.

In 2009, Ali returns to Ireland to visit Ennis in County Clare, the home town of his ancestor Abe Grady, where he is granted the freedom of the town. The huge crowds who come out to meet him are testament to his enduring appeal. But the magic of Muhammad Ali leaves an indelible impact on Ireland after his 1972 visit as the late Budd Schulberg, a legendary boxing writer, said, “Ali was like the Pied Piper. It was really kind of magical. He had enormous influence over there. He was a fellow Irishman.”

(From: “When Ali thrilled Ireland: How ‘the Greatest’ shook up Dublin” by Peter Crutchley, BBC NI Digital & Learning, June 6, 2016)

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John Kennedy’s Address to Oireachtas

jfk-address-to-oireachtasUnited States President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin on June 28, 1963, on the third day of his Irish visit. It follows a visit earlier in the day to Cork where he is greeted like a rock star.

Kennedy makes a surprising mistake when speaking to a packed Dáil Éireann about one of the most momentous days for the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Somehow, Kennedy gets his dates and geography mixed up when he says, “The 13th day of September, 1862, will be a day long remembered in American history. At Fredericksburg, Maryland, thousands of men fought and died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War.” The date of the Battle of Fredericksburg where so many Irish are slaughtered is December 13 rather than September 13 as Kennedy states. Also, Fredericksburg is in Virginia and not Maryland.

Kennedy is accompanied on this European trip, which includes the famous Ich bin ein Berliner, speech by his counselor and speech writer Ted Sorensen, a master wordsmith and fastidious researcher who seems to have erred in the writing of the speech. It is unlikely that Kennedy mispronounced “December” as the transcript of the speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum includes the incorrect dates. No one in Dáil Éireann appears to notice Kennedy’s error.

Aside from this mistake, the speech is uplifting and motivating to an Irish nation that is still young. Kennedy says:

“This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were – and I say: ‘Why not?’” ”

The complete audio version of Kennedy’s speech can be heard on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.


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Birth of Patrick MacGill, Poet & Novelist

patrick-macgillPatrick MacGill, journalist, poet and novelist, is born on December 24, 1889 in Glenties, County Donegal. He is known as “The Navvy Poet” because he works as a navvy before he begins writing.

During World War I, MacGill serves with the London Irish Rifles (1/18th Battalion, London Regiment) and is wounded at the Battle of Loos on October 28, 1915. He is recruited into Military Intelligence, and writes for MI 7b between 1916 and the Armistice in 1918. He writes a memoir-type novel called Children of the Dead End.

Patrick MacGill dies on November 22, 1963, the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

In early 2008, a docu-drama starring Stephen Rea is made about the life of Patrick MacGill, which is released in Ireland in 2009 as Child of the Dead End. One of the film’s locations is the boathouse of Edinburgh Canal Society at Edinburgh on the Union Canal, and one of its rowing boats.

An annual literary MacGill Summer School is held in Glenties in mid-July each year in his honour. A statue in his honour is on the bridge where the main street crosses the river in Glenties. He has three children, Christine, Patricia and Sheila MacGill.


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The Forest of Dunbrody

forest-of-dunbrodyIn tribute to emigrants who sailed to the New World on coffin ships, Coillte, a state-sponsored company in Ireland, announces on October 29, 1998 plans for the establishment of a forest plantation, the Forest of Dunbrody, on the outskirts of New Ross, County Wexford. The public, and particularly Irish Americans, are invited to buy a tree in the name of their loved ones. A total of 25,000 trees are planted, comprising species such as ash, oak, larch and Douglas fir.

The purpose of the plantation is to replace timbers used in the construction of the Dunbrody, a 176-foot-long replica of the Famine emigrant ships which left Ireland in the 1840s. The ship, which weighs 458 tonnes, is the culmination of a two-year, £4 million project, the inspiration of the JFK Trust.

The ship is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody which operated out of New Ross, in all but its electrical and navigational equipment. It immediately proves to be a tourist attraction with over 30,000 visitors witnessing the traditional skills of 19th-century shipbuilding being carried out by a team of 30 trainees of Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS), the Irish National Training and Employment Authority, and an international team of shipwrights.

One of the trainee shipwrights, James Grennan, is a fourth cousin of the former President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Grennan is also one of the crew of the Dunbrody.

Coillte, which had up to this point already sponsored much of the timber for the project, decides to establish a plantation of the same name as the ship after members of the building crew express an interest and as a demonstration of wood as a renewable resource.

After years of tireless effort the Dunbrody is finally ready to launch. Early on the morning of February 11, 2001 the gates of the dry dock are opened and the Dunbrody floats to her lines, ready to take her pace at the Quay of New Ross. The launch ceremony is attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former United States Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.


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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Arrives in Ireland

joe-biden-michael-higginsVice President of the United States Joe Biden arrives in Ireland on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 for a six-day visit. He arrives with his brother and sister, his daughter and five grandchildren and is welcomed to Ireland by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan.

Biden then travels to Government Buildings where he is formally welcomed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Kenny says he hopes Biden enjoyed his visit and Biden says that he himself has visited Ireland several times privately, but never as vice president. He adds that he had promised his late son Beau that he would make a family trip to Ireland, “Unfortunately Beau didn’t make it, but we decided that we would bring the whole family.”

Biden, an Irish American, speaks of his great-grandfather who emigrated from Ireland, and he also speaks of the pride his family feels in their Irish heritage.

Kenny presents Biden with a hurley and a sliotar, to which the Vice President responds, “I have witnessed one game and I have one regret, that they don’t have this in the United States. I played American football and American baseball in high school and college, but this would have been … this is a dangerous game.”

Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Kenny in the evening and meets with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, the following day at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin‘s Phoenix Park. As he signs the visitors’ book, he paraphrases another famous Irish American, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who had visited the Republic of Ireland 53 years earlier. His written entry makes reference to a speech made to Dáil Éireann in June 1963, when Kennedy said “our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history.”

During his visit Biden visits County Mayo and County Louth, where his ancestors originated, in addition to several engagements in Dublin and a stop at Newgrange. He also arranges to fit in a round of golf with Kenny.

Biden speaks at an event at Trinity College, Dublin on the morning of Friday, June 24 and delivers a keynote address to an American Ireland Fund event in Dublin Castle in the evening. He addresses the Irish American experience, the shared heritage of the two nations, and the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.

On Saturday, June 25, Biden visits various locations in County Louth including the Kilwirra Cemetery and Newgrange in County Meath.

Biden returns to the United States following a lunch with Kenny on Sunday, June 26.

(Pictured: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden signing the visitor’s book as Irish President Michael D. Higgins look on at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin)


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Birth of Audie Murphy, Decorated Soldier & Actor

audie-leon-murphyAudie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, is born to sharecropping parents of Irish descent in Kingston, Texas on June 20, 1925.

As a child, Murphy is a loner with mood swings and an explosive temper. He grows up in Texas, around Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, where he attends elementary school. His father drifts in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserts them. He drops out of school in fifth grade and gets a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support his family. After his mother dies of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, he works at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy’s older sister helps him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military. Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlists in the Army. He first sees action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944, he participates in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. He fights at Montélimar and leads his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.

Murphy receives every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He receives the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrates at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, Murphy embarks on a 21-year acting career. He plays himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his roles are in westerns. He makes guest appearances on celebrity television shows and stars in the series Whispering Smith. He is a fairly accomplished songwriter. He breeds American Quarter Horses in California and Arizona and becomes a regular participant in horse racing.

Suffering from what would today be described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Murphy sleeps with a loaded handgun under his pillow. He looks for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In his last few years, he is plagued by money problems but refuses offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he does not want to set a bad example.

Audie Murphy is killed on May 28, 1971 when the private plane in which he is a passenger crashes into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, twenty miles west of Roanoke in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers are also killed. On June 7, 1971, he is buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In attendance are United States Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff of the United States Army William Westmoreland, and many of the 3rd Infantry Division. His gravesite is the cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

(Pictured: Audie Murphy as Tom Smith in the television series Whispering Smith, 1961)


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Death of C.S. Lewis, Novelist & Poet

Clive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist, dies in Oxford, England, on November 22, 1963.

Lewis is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. When he is seven, his family moves into “Little Lea,” the family home of his childhood, in the Strandtown area of East Belfast. He was schooled by private tutors until age 9, when his mother dies from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. The school closes soon afterwards due to a lack of pupils. He then attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that Lewis abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College, where he remains until the following June. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis and fellow novelist J.R.R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University, and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. According to Lewis’s memoir Surprised by Joy, he is baptised in the Church of Ireland, but fell away from his faith during adolescence. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books, which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologetics from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. His illness causes him to miss the autumn term at Cambridge, though his health gradually begins improving in 1962 and he returns that April. His health continues to improve and he is fully himself by early 1963. On July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to hospital. At 5:00 PM the following day he suffers a heart attack and lapses into a coma, unexpectedly awaking the following afternoon. After he is discharged from the hospital he is too ill to return to work. As a result, he resigns from his post at Cambridge in August. His condition continues to decline, and in mid-November he is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. On November 22, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, he collapses in his bedroom at 5:30 PM and dies a few minutes later. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which occurs on the same day approximately 55 minutes following Lewis’s collapse, as does the death of English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His works enter the public domain in 2014 in countries where copyright expires 50 years after the death of the creator, such as Canada.