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


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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Birth of Peig Sayers, Author & Seanchaí

peig-sayersPeig Sayers, Irish author and seanchaí, is born in the townland of Vicarstown, Dunquin, County Kerry, on March 29, 1873. Seán Ó Súilleabháin, the former archivist for the Irish Folklore Commission, describes her as “one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times.”

Sayers is born Máiréad (Margaret) Sayers, the youngest child of the family. She is called Peig after her mother, Margaret “Peig” Brosnan, from Castleisland. Her father Tomás Sayers is a renowned storyteller who passes on many of his tales to Peig. At age 12, she is taken out of school and goes to work as a servant for the Curran family in the nearby town of Dingle. She spends two years there before returning home due to illness.

She spends the next few years as a domestic servant working for members of the growing middle class produced by the Land War. She plans to join her best friend, Cáit Boland, in the United States, but Boland writes that she has had an accident and can not forward the cost of the fare. Peig moves to the Great Blasket Island after marrying Pádraig Ó Guithín, a fisherman and native of the island, on February 13, 1892. She and Pádraig have eleven children, of whom six survive.

The Norwegian scholar Carl Marstrander, who visits the island in 1907, urges Robin Flower of the British Museum to visit the Blaskets. Flower is keenly appreciative of Sayers’ stories and tales. He records them and brings them to the attention of the academic world.

In the 1930s, a Dublin teacher, Máire Ní Chinnéide, who is a regular visitor to the Blaskets, urges Sayers to tell her life story to her son Micheál. She is illiterate in the Irish language, although she receives her early schooling through the medium of English. She dictates her biography to Micheál. He then sends the manuscript pages to Máire Ní Chinnéide in Dublin, who edits them for publication. It is published in 1936.

Over several years beginning in 1938 she dictates 350 ancient legends, ghost stories, folk stories, and religious stories to Seosamh Ó Dálaigh of the Irish Folklore Commission.

Sayers continues to live on the island until 1942, when she leaves the Island and returns to her native Dunquin. She is moved to a hospital in Dingle, County Kerry where she dies on December 8, 1958. She is buried in the Dún Chaoin Burial Ground on the Dingle Peninsula. Her surviving children, except for her son Micheál, emigrate to the United States and live with their descendants in Springfield, Massachusetts.


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Birth of Edward Martyn, Playwright & Activist

edward-martynEdward Martyn, Irish playwright and early republican political and cultural activist, is born in County Galway on January 30, 1859. He serves as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908.

Martyn is the elder son of John Martyn of Tullira Castle, Ardrahan and Annie Mary Josephine (née Smyth) of Masonbrook, Loughrea, both of County Galway. He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Wimbledon College, London, both Jesuit schools, after which he enters Christ Church, Oxford in 1877, but leaves without taking a degree in 1879. His only sibling, John, dies in 1883.

Martyn begins writing fiction and plays in the 1880s. While his own output is undistinguished, he acquires a well-earned reputation as a noted connoisseur of music, both European classical and Irish traditional. He is a fine musician in his own right, giving memorable performances for guests on an organ he has installed at Tullira. He uses his wealth to benefit Irish culture.

Martyn is reportedly pivotal in introducing William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory to each other in 1896. The three found the Irish Literary Theatre, for whom Martyn writes his best and most popular plays, The Heather Field and A Tale of a Town. He covers the costs of the company’s first three seasons, which proves crucial to establishing the company and the future of the Abbey Theatre. He later parts ways with Yeats and Gregory, something he later regrets, but remains on warm terms with Lady Gregory until the end of his life.

Martyn is a cousin and friend to George Moore (1852–1933). The two make frequent trips all over Europe, where Moore influences Martyn’s views on modern art, which result in the latter purchasing several works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Kitagawa Utamaro, all later donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore does not share Martyn’s fenian ideas nor espousal of violent means to achieve national sovereignty. Their different political opinions eventually drive their friendship apart.

Martyn is descended from Richard Óge Martyn, a leading Irish Confederate, and Oliver Óge Martyn, a Jacobite who fights in the Williamite War in Ireland. Yet by his lifetime, the family are unionists. Martyn’s outlook begins to change in the 1880s after studying Irish history, as well as living through the events of the Irish Land War. He comes out as an Irish republican when he famously refuses to allow “God Save The Queen” to be sung after a dinner party at Tullira. By this stage he is involved with the political work of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith, and is a vocal opponent of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1897. He also protests the visit by Edward VII in 1903, this time as chairman of the People’s Protection Committee. He is the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In 1908 he resigns from the party and politics in general to concentrate on writing and his other activities.

He is on close personal terms with Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Patrick Pearse, and deeply mourns their executions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. A parish hall and church that he founded at Labane, near Tullira, are burned by the Black and Tans. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Martyn dies at Tullira on December 5, 1923 after years of ill health. Friends and family are shocked at a provision in his will that directs that his body be donated for the use of medical science and, after dissection, be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The Palestrina Choir sings at his graveside. He bequeaths his papers to the Carmelites of Clarendon Street in Dublin, who subsequently misplace and lose them. Portraits of Martyn exist by, among others, John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser. On his death the senior line of the Martyn family dies out. His property is inherited by his cousins, the Smyths of Masonbrook and Lord Hemphill. Tullira is sold by the latter forty years later changing ownership several times since.


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New Departure

Fenians propose a “New Departure,” an alliance with the Parnellites, on October 27, 1878. The term New Departure is used to describe several initiatives in the late 19th century by which Irish republicans, who are committed to independence from Britain by physical force, attempt to find a common ground for co-operation with groups committed to Irish Home Rule by constitutional means. The term refers to the fact that Fenians are to some extent departing from their orthodox doctrine of noninvolvement with constitutional politics, especially the British parliament.

In January 1877, James Joseph O’Kelly, a journalist with the New York Herald persuades John Devoy to meet with Irish parliamentarians. In January 1878, Devoy meets with Charles Stewart Parnell in Dublin. In March the exiled senior Irish Republican Brotherhood member John O’Leary and Supreme Council secretary John O’Connor meet secretly in London with MPs Charles Stewart Parnell, Frank Hugh O’Donnell, William Henry O’Sullivan and O’Kelly. The meeting is sought by Parnell or by William Carroll of Clan na Gael to consider co-operation between the IRB and Parnell. Parnell apparently merely listens and does not commit himself.

John O’Connor and Dr. Mark Ryan, both members of the IRB’s Supreme Council, believe O’Connor Power has some hand in the new departure. John O’Connor suspects that Michael Davitt of the IRB has been influenced by O’Connor Power, and that the new departure proposals conceal some sinister scheme of Power’s devising, assumptions that Davitt hotly rejects. The precedent for constitutional agitation set by Power is not lost on orthodox Fenians such as Dr. Ryan, who sees behind the new departure the nefarious influence of the member for Mayo.

In late 1878 Michael Davitt makes a fund-raising political lecture tour of the United States, promoted by William Carroll and John Devoy of Clan na Gael. On October 13 in Brooklyn, New York, Davitt first presents, in a lecture titled “Ireland in parliament from a nationalist’s point of view,” a doctrine that Irish republicans can not prevent Irishmen voting or being elected to the British parliament, but they can influence who is sent to that parliament. He states that the Home Rule League, especially Isaac Butt and John O’Connor Power, are failing to prevent Ireland from being “imperialised” or “West Britainised.” Davitt however believes that Parnell and Joseph Biggar are acceptable Irish MPs, and Irish republicans should ensure that more such strong nationalists are voted in. John Devoy follows and points out that if Irish republicans are to gain the support of Britain’s potential enemies, such as Russia, they need to provide far stronger opposition to Britain both inside and outside parliament. He points out that Russia has not yet seen the Irish as providing any such meaningful opposition, in fact to Russia they appear loyal to Britain. Hence it is necessary to replace representatives in all Irish public bodies with suitable committed nationalists. Both Davitt and Devoy at this meeting stress that resolution of the Irish land question by transfer of ownership to the farmers themselves is integral to Irish demands on Britain.

On October 27, 1878, Devoy, without first consulting Davitt, summarises these ideas in what he terms a “new departure” in the New York Herald, and it is reported in Ireland on November 11. He also states that Irish participation in the British parliament is to be temporary, and that at a suitable time Irish nationalist MPs will withdraw to Dublin and form an independent Irish legislature. Davitt is at first worried that perceived connections to the Fenians will threaten Parnell in parliament, but Devoy convinces him that Parnell will not be affected. IRB leaders John O’Leary and Charles Kickham reject the overture to constitutionalists and Parnell gives no comment. He does however adopt the militant rhetoric of land ownership to be transferred to the Irish farmers themselves in various public speeches in Ireland. Hence the stage is set for the successful collaboration in 1879 over the Land War.

(Pictured: John Devoy)


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Death of Emily Lawless, Irish Novelist & Poet

The Honourable Emily Lawless, Irish novelist and poet from County Kildare, dies at Gomshall, a village in the borough of Guildford in Surrey, England, on October 19, 1913. According to Betty Webb Brewer, writing in 1983 for the journal of the Irish American Cultural Institute, Éire/Ireland, “An unflagging unionist, she recognised the rich literary potential in the native tradition and wrote novels with peasant heroes and heroines, Lawless depicted with equal sympathy the Anglo-Irish landholders.”

Lawless is born at Lyons Demesne below Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare. Her grandfather is Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, a member of the Society of United Irishmen and son of a convert from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. Her father is Edward Lawless, 3rd Baron Cloncurry, thus giving her the title of “The Honourable.” In contrast, her brother Edward Lawless is a landowner with strong Unionist opinions, a policy of not employing Roman Catholics in any position in his household, and chairman of the Property Defence Association set up in 1880 to oppose the Irish National Land League and “uphold the rights of property against organised combination to defraud.” The prominent Anglo-Irish unionist and later nationalist, Home Rule politician Horace Plunkett is a cousin. Lord Castletown, Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown is also a cousin. It is widely believed that she is a lesbian and that Lady Sarah Spencer, dedicatee of A Garden Diary (1901) is her lover.

Lawless spends part of her childhood with the Kirwans of Castle Hackett, County Galway, her mother’s family, and draws on West of Ireland themes for many of her works. She occasionally writes under the pen name “Edith Lytton.”

Lawless writes nineteen works of fiction, biography, history, nature studies and poetry, many of which are widely read at the time. She is most famous today for her Wild Geese poems (1902).

Some critics identify a theme of noble landlord and noble peasant in her fourth book, Hurrish, a Land War story set in The Burren of County Clare which is read by William Ewart Gladstone and said to have influenced his policy. It deals with the theme of Irish hostility to English law. In the course of the book a landlord is assassinated, and Hurrish’s mother, Bridget, refuses to identify the murderer, a dull-witted brutal neighbour. The book is criticised by Irish-Ireland journals for its “grossly exaggerated violence,” its embarrassing dialect, staid characters.

Her reputation is damaged by William Butler Yeats who accuses her in a critique of having “an imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature” and for adopting “theory invented by political journalists and forensic historians.” Despite this, Yeats includes her novels With Essex in Ireland (1890) and Maelcho (1894) in his list of the best Irish novels.

Emily Lawless dies at Gomshall, Surrey, on October 19, 1913. Her papers are preserved in Marsh’s Library in Dublin.


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Death of Thomas Croke, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly

Thomas William Croke, the second Catholic Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand (1870–74) and later Archbishop of Cashel and Emly in Ireland, dies on July 22, 1902. He is important in the Irish nationalist movement especially as a Champion of the Irish National Land League in the 1880s. The main Gaelic Athletic Association stadium in Dublin is named Croke Park in his honour.

Croke is born in Castlecor, County Cork, on May 28, 1824. He is educated in Charleville, County Cork, the Irish College in Paris and the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, winning academic distinctions including a doctorate of divinity with honours. He is ordained in May 1847. Returning to Ireland for a short time he is appointed a Professor in St. Patrick’s, Carlow College. The Irish radical William O’Brien says that Croke fought on the barricades in Paris during the French Revolution of 1848. Croke returns to Ireland and spends the next 23 years working there. In 1858 he becomes the first president of St. Colman’s College, Fermoy, County Cork and then serves as both parish priest of Doneraile and Vicar General of Cloyne diocese from 1866 to 1870. Croke attends the First Vatican Council as the theologian to the Bishop of Cloyne 1870.

Croke gains the good opinion of the Irish ecclesiastical authorities and is rewarded in 1870 by his promotion to Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand. His former professor, Paul Cullen, by then Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin, is largely responsible for filling the Australasian Catholic church with fellow Irishmen. His strong recommendations lead to Croke’s appointment. Croke arrives at Auckland on December 17, 1870 on the City of Melbourne. During his three years as bishop he restores firm leadership to a diocese left in disarray by his predecessor, Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier. He devotes some of his considerable personal wealth to rebuilding diocesan finances and also takes advantage of Auckland’s economic growth following the development of the Thames goldfields to further his aims, ensuring that all surplus income from parishes at Thames and Coromandel is passed on to him, and he institutes a more rigorous system for the Sunday collection at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He imports Irish clergy to serve the growing Catholic community, and with Patrick Moran, the first Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Dunedin, he tries unsuccessfully to secure an Irish monopoly on future episcopal appointments in New Zealand. Croke supports separate Catholic schools and their right to state aid, and voices his opposition to secular education as Auckland’s Catholic schools are threatened by the provincial council’s Education Act 1872, which helps to create a free, secular and compulsory education system. However, generally, Croke’s image is uncontroversial. On January 28, 1874, after barely three years in office, Croke departs for Europe, on what is ostensibly a 12-month holiday and he does not return to New Zealand.

Croke becomes a member of the Irish hierarchy when he is translated to be Archbishop of Cashel, one of the four Catholic Irish archbishoprics in 1875. Archbishop Croke is a strong supporter of Irish nationalism, aligning himself with the Irish National Land League during the Land War, and with the chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Charles Stewart Parnell. In an 1887 interview he explains that he had opposed the League’s “No rent manifesto” in 1881, preferring to stop payment of all taxes.

Croke also associates himself with the Temperance Movement of Fr. Theobald Mathew and Gaelic League from its foundation in 1893. Within Catholicism he is a supporter of Gallicanism, as opposed to the Ultramontanism favoured by the Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Cullen. His support of nationalism causes successive British governments and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland‘s governments in Dublin to be deeply suspicious of him, as are some less politically aligned Irish bishops.

Following the scandal that erupts over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the separated wife of fellow MP Captain William O’Shea, Archbishop Croke withdraws from active participation in nationalist politics.

Thomas Croke, 78, dies at the Archbishop’s Palace in Thurles, County Tipperary on July 22, 1902. He is buried at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles. In honour of Croke, his successors as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly traditionally are asked to throw in the ball at the minor Gaelic football and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship finals.


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Birth of James Connolly, Republican & Socialist Leader

James Connolly, Irish republican and socialist leader, is born to Irish-born parents in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 5, 1868. He spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life.

Connolly has an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school. He then leaves and works in labouring jobs. Due to economic difficulties, he joins the British Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid. He serves in Ireland with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment for nearly seven years, during a turbulent period in rural areas known as the Land War.

Connolly develops a deep hatred for the British Army that lasts his entire life. Upon hearing that his regiment is being transferred to India, he deserts. He meets a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds and they marry in April 1890, settling in Edinburgh. There, Connolly begins to get involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, but with a young family to support, he needs a way to provide for them. He briefly establishes a cobbler‘s shop in 1895, but this fails after a few months.

By 1892 Connolly is involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. During this time, he becomes involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie had formed in 1893.

Connolly and his family move to Dublin, where he takes up the position of full-time secretary for the Dublin Socialist Club. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism.

While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly is the founding editor of The Socialist newspaper and is among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which splits from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903.

A combination of frustration with the progress of the ISRP and economic necessity causes Connolly to emigrate to the United States in September 1903. While in America he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909) and the Industrial Workers of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907.

On his return to Ireland in 1910 he is right-hand man to fellow-syndicalist James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913, in response to the Great Dublin Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, found the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim is to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He also founds the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and is a member of its National Executive.

When the Easter Rising begins on April 24, 1916, Connolly is Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade has the most substantial role in the rising, he is de facto commander-in-chief. His leadership in the Easter Rising is considered formidable. Michael Collins says of Connolly that he “would have followed him through hell.”

Connolly is sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On May 12, 1916 he is taken by military ambulance to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from Kilmainham Gaol, and from there taken to the gaol, where he is to be executed.

Connolly has been so badly injured from the fighting that he is unable to stand before the firing squad. He is carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he is tied to a chair and then shot.

His body, along with those of the other leaders, is put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebel leaders deeply angers the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It is Connolly’s execution that causes the most controversy. The executions are not well received, even throughout Britain, and draw unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government is seeking to bring into the war in Europe. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith orders that no more executions are to take place, an exception being that of Roger Casement as he has not yet been tried.


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Birth of Philanthropist Vere Foster

Vere Henry Louis Foster, English educationist and philanthropist is born in Copenhagen on April 25, 1819.

Foster is the third son of Sir Augustus John Foster, 1st Baronet and his wife, Albinia Jane, daughter of George Vere Hobart, and granddaughter of George Hobart, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire. He is educated at Eton College, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on May 30, 1838.

Leaving Oxford without a degree, Foster joins the diplomatic service. From 1842 to 1843 he is attached to the diplomatic mission of Sir Henry Ellis in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1845 to 1847 to that of Sir William Gore Ouseley in Montevideo.

In 1847 Foster visits a family estate in County Louth, Ireland at the time of the Great Famine, with his eldest brother, Sir Frederick George Foster. They become involved in famine relief. In 1848 their father dies and Foster undergoes a crisis in his life, and he comes to concentrate on philanthropy in Ireland.

Foster makes three voyages to the United States as a steerage passenger in a ship of emigrants, finding the accommodations bad, and the treatment of emigrants exploitative. Through his cousin Vere Hobart, Lord Hobart, he is able to influence parliament and the Passengers Act 1851. He also takes practical steps to promote Irish emigration to the United States.

Later, Foster takes up the improvement of education in Ireland. This is a time of Catholic suspicion of the national education system introduced by Richard Whately. Foster contributes to the provision of better school accommodation and apparatus, and gives grants in aid of building several hundred new school-houses. He agitates for improved wages and conditions for teachers, and develops the “Vere Foster copy-books” to improve and standardise the teaching of writing. The immense popularity of these texts draw him to the Belfast printing firm Marcus Ward & Company, and into personal friendship with John Ward, one of the firm’s owners.

In 1867, Foster settles permanently in Belfast where he continues to work as the president of the Congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. He fundraises for the Royal Belfast Hospital, and helps to establish a school of art in the town, while continuing to promote emigration.

In 1879, with the Land War in Ireland, Foster concentrates on promoting female emigration to the United States and the British colonies. He is supported in his projects by both Catholic and Protestant clergy.

Vere Foster dies, unmarried, in Belfast on December 21, 1900. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.


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Birth of Irish Revolutionary Maud Gonne

maud-gonneMaud Gonne, Irish revolutionary, romantic muse for William Butler Yeats, and mother to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Seán MacBride, is born at Tongham, England on December 21, 1866.

Gonne is born into a distinguished and wealthy family, and her father serves as an army captain. Her mother dies of tuberculosis when she is a child, and she and her sister are raised and educated by a French nanny. This cosmopolitan upbringing is furthered by travels throughout Europe with her father, then a military attaché.

In 1884, Gonne’s father dies of typhoid fever and she receives a considerable inheritance. After moving to France to be with her aunt, she meets and falls in love with right wing politician Lucien Millevoye. Though he is already married, he instills Gonne with his political passions. She begins a nearly lifelong fight for Irish freedom from England and the release of political prisoners. She and Millevoye have two children, one of whom survives, before their relationship ends.

Moved by the plight of those evicted in the Land Wars, Gonne continues to campaign for the Irish nationalist cause. While living in Paris, she is introduced to Fenianism by John O’Leary, a veteran of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. In 1889, O’Leary introduces her to a man whose infatuation with her would last most of his life, poet William Butler Yeats. She begins a relationship with Yeats, though she refuses his many marriage proposals. She is the inspiration for many of Yeats’s poems. In 1900, she founds the Daughters of Ireland, which provides a home for Irish nationalist women.

In 1918, Gonne is arrested for being a political agitator. She becomes severely ill in prison and after her release, she begins a crusade for improved conditions for Ireland’s political prisoners. In 1903, she marries Major John MacBride, who had led the Irish Transvaal Brigade against the British in the Second Boer War, in Paris in 1903. After the birth of their son, Seán, Gonne and her husband agree to end their marriage. She demands sole custody of their son but MacBride refuses, and a divorce case begins in Paris on February 28, 1905. The only charge against MacBride substantiated in court is that he was drunk on one occasion during the marriage. A divorce is not granted, and MacBride is given the right to visit his son twice weekly.

The couple’s son, Seán MacBride, is active in politics in Ireland and in the United Nations. He is a founding member and Chairman of Amnesty International and is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

Gonne dies in Clonskeagh on April 27, 1953, at the age of 86 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Maud Gonne’s autobiography, A Servant of the Queen, is published in 1938.


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Birth of Irish Rebel Leader John Devoy

john-devoyJohn Devoy, one of the most devoted revolutionaries the world has ever seen, is born in Kill, County Kildare, on September 3, 1842. Dedicating over 60 years of his life to the cause of Irish freedom, he is one of the few people to have played a leading role in the Fenian Rising of 1867, the 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921).

After the Great Famine, the family moves to Dublin where Devoy’s father obtains at job at Watkins’ brewery. Devoy attends night school at the Catholic University before joining the Fenians. In 1861 he travels to France with an introduction from Timothy Daniel Sullivan to John Mitchel. Devoy joins the French Foreign Legion and serves in Algeria for a year before returning to Ireland to become a Fenian organiser in Naas, County Kildare.

In 1865, when many Fenians are arrested, James Stephens, founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), appoints Devoy Chief Organiser of Fenians in the British Army in Ireland. His duty is to enlist Irish soldiers in the British Army into the IRB. In November 1865 Devoy orchestrates Stephens’ escape from Richmond Prison in Dublin.

In February 1866 an IRB Council of War calls for an immediate uprising but Stephens refuses, much to Devoy’s annoyance, as he calculated the Fenian force in the British Army to number 80,000. The British get wind of the plan through informers and move the regiments abroad, replacing them with regiments from Britain. Devoy is arrested in February 1866 and interned in Mountjoy Gaol, then tried for treason and sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude. In Portland Prison Devoy organises prison strikes and, as a result, is moved to Millbank Prison in Pimlico, London.

In January 1871, he is released and exiled to the United States as one of the “Cuba Five.” He receives an address of welcome from the House of Representatives. Devoy becomes a journalist for the New York Herald and is active in Clan na Gael. Under Devoy’s leadership, Clan na Gael becomes the central Irish republican organisation in the United States. In 1877 he aligns the organisation with the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland.

In 1875, Devoy and John Boyle O’Reilly organise the escape of six Fenians from Fremantle Prison in Western Australia aboard the ship Catalpa. Devoy returns to Ireland in 1879 to inspect Fenian centres and meets Charles Kickham, John O’Leary, and Michael Davitt en route in Paris. He convinces Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell to co-operate in the “New Departure” during the growing Land War.

Devoy’s fundraising efforts and work to sway Irish Americans to physical force nationalism makes possible the Easter Rising in 1916. In 1914, Patrick Pearse visits the elderly Devoy in America, and later the same year Roger Casement works with Devoy in raising money for guns to arm the Irish Volunteers. Though he is skeptical of the endeavor, he finances and supports Casement’s expedition to Germany to enlist German aid in the struggle to free Ireland from English rule. Also, before and during World War I, Devoy is also identified closely with the Ghadar Party, and is accepted to have played a major role in supporting Indian Nationalists, as well as playing a key role in the Hindu-German Conspiracy which leads to the trial that is the longest and most expensive trial in the United States at the time.

In 1916 Devoy plays an important role in the formation of the Clan-dominated Friends of Irish Freedom, a propaganda organization whose membership totals 275,000 at one point. The Friends fail in their efforts to defeat Woodrow Wilson for the presidency in 1916. Fearful of accusations of disloyalty for their cooperation with Germans and opposition to the United States’ entering the war on the side of Great Britain, the Friends significantly lower their profile after April 1917. Sinn Féin‘s election victories and the British government’s intentions to conscript in Ireland in April 1917 help to revitalize the Friends.

With the end of the war, Devoy plays a key role in the Friends’ advocacy for not the United States’ recognition of the Irish Republic but, in keeping with President Wilson’s war aims, self-determination for Ireland. The latter does not guarantee recognition of the Republic as declared in 1916 and reaffirmed in popular election in 1918. American-Irish republicans challenge the Friends’ refusal to campaign for American recognition of the Irish Republic. Not surprisingly, Devoy and the Friends’ Daniel F. Cohalan become the key players in a trans-Atlantic dispute with de facto Irish president Éamon de Valera, touring the United States in 1919 and 1920 in hopes of gaining U.S. recognition of the Republic and American funds. Believing that the Americans should follow Irish policy, de Valera forms the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic in 1920 with help from the Philadelphia Clan na Gael.

Devoy returns to Ireland and in 1919 addresses Dáil Éireann. He later supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Devoy is editor of the Gaelic American from 1903 until his death in Atlantic City on September 29, 1928. His body is returned to Ireland and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. A large memorial to him stands on the road between his native Kill and Johnstown.