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


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Birth of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Irish American politician who serves as the 35th president of the United States, is born in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. He serves from 1961 until his assassination in 1963 during the height of the Cold War, with the majority of his work as president concerning relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Kennedy is born into the wealthy, political Kennedy family, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a businessman and politician, and Rose Kennedy (née Fitzgerald), a philanthropist and socialite. All four of his grandparents are children of Irish immigrants. He graduates from Harvard University in 1940, before joining the United States Naval Reserve the following year. During World War II, he commands a series of PT boats in the Pacific theater and earns the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his service.

Following a brief stint in journalism, Kennedy, a Democrat, represents a working-class Boston district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953. He is subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate and serves as the junior senator for Massachusetts from 1953 to 1960. While in the Senate, Kennedy publishes his book, Profiles in Courage, which wins a Pulitzer Prize.

Kennedy meets his future wife, Jacqueline Lee “Jackie” Bouvier (1929–1994), while he is a congressman. Charles L. Bartlett, a journalist, introduces the pair at a dinner party. They are married a year after he is elected senator, on September 12, 1953. Following a miscarriage in 1955 and a stillbirth in 1956, they produce three children, Caroline, John, Jr., and Patrick, who dies of complications two days after birth.

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy narrowly defeats Republican opponent Richard Nixon, who is the incumbent vice president. His humor, charm, and youth in addition to his father’s money and contacts are great assets in the campaign. His campaign gains momentum after the first televised presidential debates in American history. He is the first Catholic elected president of the United States.

Kennedy’s administration includes high tensions with communist states in the Cold War. As a result, he increases the number of American military advisors in South Vietnam. The Strategic Hamlet Program begins in Vietnam during his presidency. In April 1961, he authorizes an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. He authorizes the Cuban Project, also known as Operation Mongoose, in November 1961. He rejects Operation Northwoods, plans for false flag attacks to gain approval for a war against Cuba, in March 1962. However, his administration continues to plan for an invasion of Cuba in the summer of 1962.

In October 1962, U.S. spy planes discover Soviet missile bases have been deployed in Cuba. The resulting period of tensions, termed the Cuban Missile Crisis, nearly results in the breakout of a global thermonuclear conflict. He also signs the first nuclear weapons treaty in October 1963.

Kennedy presides over the establishment of the Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress with Latin America, and the continuation of the Apollo space program with the goal of landing a man on the Moon. He also supports the civil rights movement, but is only somewhat successful in passing his New Frontier domestic policies.

On November 22, 1963, Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the presidency upon Kennedy’s death. Marxist and former U.S. Marine Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested for the state crime, but is shot and killed by Jack Ruby two days later. The FBI and the Warren Commission both conclude Oswald had acted alone in the assassination, but various groups contest the Warren Report and believe that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy.

After Kennedy’s death, Congress enacts many of his proposals, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Revenue Act of 1964. Despite his truncated presidency, he ranks highly in polls of U.S. presidents with historians and the general public. His personal life has also been the focus of considerable sustained interest following public revelations in the 1970s of his chronic health ailments and extramarital affairs. He is the last U.S. President to have been assassinated as well as the last U.S. president to die in office.

(Pictured: John F. Kennedy, photograph in the Oval Office, July 11, 1963)


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Death of John Robert Gregg, Inventor of Gregg Shorthand

John Robert Gregg, educator, publisher, humanitarian, and the inventor of the eponymous shorthand system Gregg shorthand, dies in Cannondale, Connecticut on February 23, 1948.

Gregg is born on June 17, 1867 in Shantonagh, County Westmeath, as the youngest child of Robert and Margaret Gregg, where they remain until 1872, when they move to Rockcorry, County Monaghan. He enters the village school in Rockcorry in 1872. On his second day of class, he is caught whispering to a schoolmate, which prompts the schoolmaster to hit the two children’s heads together. This incident profoundly damages his hearing for the rest of his life, rendering him unable to participate fully in school, unable to understand his teacher. This ultimately leads to him being unnecessarily perceived as dull or mentally challenged by his peers, teachers, and family.

In 1877, after seeing a friend use Pitman shorthand to take verbatim notes of a preacher’s sermon, Robert Gregg sees the shorthand skill as a powerful asset, so he makes it mandatory for his children to learn Pitman shorthand, with the exception of John, who is considered by his family too “simple” to learn it. None of the children succeed in fully learning the system. On his own, John learns the shorthand system of Samuel Taylor. He teaches himself the system fully, since he does not require the ability to hear in order to learn from the book.

Gregg says he initially set out to improve the English adaptation by John Matthew Sloan of the French Duployan shorthand, while working with one of Sloan’s sales agents, Thomas Malone. Malone publishes a system called Script Phonography, of which Gregg asserts a share in authorship is owed to him. Angered by Malone, he resigns from working with him and, encouraged by his older brother Samuel, publishes and copyrights his own system of shorthand in 1888. It is put forth in a brochure entitled Light-Line Phonography: The Phonetic Handwriting which he publishes in Liverpool, England.

In 1893, Gregg emigrates to the United States. That year he publishes Gregg shorthand with great success. He settles in Chicago in 1895 and by 1896 dozens of American public schools are teaching Gregg shorthand. The first Gregg Shorthand Association is formed in Chicago that year with 40 members. In 1897 the Gregg Publishing Company is formed to publish shorthand textbooks.

By 1907 Gregg is so successful that he opens an office in New York and then moves there. The popularity of his shorthand system continues to grow with it being taught in 533 school systems by 1912. In 1914 the New York City Board of Education approves the experimental introduction of Gregg shorthand into its high schools, where the Pitman system had long held sway. That same year the system is admitted to Columbia University (New York) and the University of California, Berkeley.

After World War I, Gregg travels extensively throughout Great Britain, hoping to popularize his system there. He is not quite as successful in this endeavor as he had been in America, but he sees Gregg shorthand become wildly popular in France, Germany, Poland, Spain, and especially Latin America, where for years Gregg’s birthday is a national holiday.

Following his wife’s death in 1928 Gregg returns to New York. He throws himself into volunteer work and continues to perfect the Gregg system. Over the next several years he is the recipient of several honorary degrees from American educational institutions. At one such ceremony in June 1930 he renews his acquaintance with Janet Kinley, daughter of the president of the University of Illinois. The two are married in October of that year. They purchase a home in Cannondale, a historic section of Wilton, Connecticut.

In the 1930s Gregg begins writing a history of shorthand, the subject that had been his lifelong obsession. The first chapter is printed in 1933 and successive chapters follow at intervals until 1936. He devotes time to charitable work and institutes scholarships in the arts and in court reporting at his Chicago school. His voluntary work on behalf of Allied soldiers and British civilians during World War II wins recognition from King George VI, who awards him a medal for “Service in the Cause of Freedom” in 1947.

In December 1947 Gregg undergoes surgery from which he seems to recover well. However, on February 23, 1948, he suffers a heart attack and dies in Cannondale, Connecticut at the age of eighty.


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Micheál Martin Elected Leader of Fianna Fáil

Micheál Martin is elected leader of Fianna Fáil on January 26, 2011. He beats the competition of finance minister Brian Lenihan, tourism minister Mary Hanafin, and social protection minister Éamon Ó Cuív. He replaces Brian Cowan who stepped down on January 22. During his acceptance speech, the new leader apologises for mistakes he and the Government made in managing the economy but says the most important thing is to learn from these mistakes.

Martin has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cork South-Central constituency since 1989. He previously serves as Minister for Education and Science and Lord Mayor of Cork from 1992 to 1993, Minister for Health and Children from 2000 to 2004, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 2004 to 2008, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2011, and Leader of the Opposition in Ireland from 2011 to 2020.

While Martin is Minister for Health and Children in 2004, he introduces a ban on tobacco smoking in all Irish workplaces and establishes the Health Service Executive (HSE). Ireland is the first country to introduce a full workplace smoking ban. As Foreign Minister, in 2009, he travels to Latin America for the first time, and makes the first official visit to Cuba by an Irish Minister. That same year, he travels to Khartoum following the kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki. In 2010, he becomes the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza since Hamas took control there in 2007.

In January 2011, Martin resigns as Minister for Foreign Affairs and is subsequently elected as the eighth leader of Fianna Fáil following Cowen’s resignation as party leader. In the 2011 Irish general election, he leads the party to its worst showing in its 85-year history, with a loss of 57 seats and a drop in its share of the popular vote to 17.4%. In the 2016 Irish general election, Fianna Fáil’s performance improves significantly, more than doubling their Dáil representation from 20 to 44 seats. In the 2020 Irish general election, Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party, attaining the most seats at 38, one seat ahead of Sinn Féin with 37 seats. He is appointed Taoiseach on June 27, 2020, leading a grand coalition with longtime rival Fine Gael and the Green Party as part of a historic deal. Under the terms of the agreement, Martin’s predecessor, Leo Varadkar, becomes Tánaiste, and will swap roles with Martin in December 2022.


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Birth of Raymond Crotty, Economist, Writer, Academic & Farmer

Raymond Dominick Crotty, economist, writer, academic and farmer who is known for his opposition to Ireland’s membership of the European Union, is born in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny on January 22, 1925.

Crotty grows up in Kilkenny and, while a student at St. Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, he begins breeding pigs in his spare time. Rather than move on to university, he pursues his interest in agriculture by going to work for a farmer relative in 1942. A year later he undertakes a 12-month course at the Albert Agricultural College in Glasnevin, Dublin. In 1945, he purchases a 204-acre farm in Dunbell, not far from Kilkenny, and spends the next two decades putting into practice his developing knowledge of agricultural production.

In 1956, while still a farmer, Crotty enrolls as a distance-learning student at the University of London, obtaining a BSc (Econ.) degree in 1959. He spends two further years studying for a MSc (Econ.) degree at the London School of Economics. In 1961, he obtains a post as lecturer in Agricultural Economics at University of Wales, Aberystwyth. During the 1960s, he sells his farm and becomes an economic adviser to various development agencies, including the World Bank. His work brings him to various parts of the developing world, including Latin America, India, and Africa. In 1976, he receives a fellowship at the University of Sussex. In 1982, he becomes a lecturer in statistics at Trinity College, Dublin.

Crotty’s knowledge and experience of agricultural economics shapes his attitude to Ireland’s participation in the European Economic Community. His years as a farmer teaches him that Irish agriculture is structured so as to discourage efficient use of the land.

Crotty grows to believe that agricultural efficiency can best be achieved by the imposition of an annual land tax. This would allow taxes on inputs and outputs to be removed or reduced and would encourage only those prepared to maximise the potential of their land to remain in farming. In putting forward this proposal, he is reflecting the influence of American economist Henry George, who held that land owned by private individuals should be subject to a tax on the land because of the advantage bestowed on the owner. He believes that Irish agriculture would be damaged if Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC) as, instead of becoming more efficient, farmers would grow to depend on external subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Furthermore, Crotty maintains that Ireland’s status as an ex-colony makes it unsuited for membership of a bloc of nations that include former colonial powers. In 1962, in the early stages of the public debate on whether Ireland should join the EEC, he expresses his concerns about the possible loss of Ireland’s national identity within what he termed a “European super state.”

In 1972, Crotty joins Trinity College academic Anthony Coughlan in opposing Ireland’s accession to the EEC. Over the next twenty years he campaigns against further integration of Ireland into the EEC, most notably during the attempts to ratify the Single European Act in the mid-1980s. He stands for election in the 1989 European Parliament election as a candidate in the Dublin constituency. He receives 25,525 votes (5.69% of the valid votes cast), not enough to elect him. In 1992, he once again allies himself with Coughlan in urging Irish voters to reject the Maastricht Treaty in the referendum held on June 18.

Despite failing to win majority support for his views in elections and referendums, Crotty continues until the end of his life his campaign against Ireland’s membership of the European Union.

Crotty is a prolific writer, producing books, pamphlets, articles, and letters on subjects such as economics, history, and Ireland’s involvement with Europe. His final work, When Histories Collide: The Development and Impact of Individualistic Capitalism, is edited by his son Raymond and published posthumously in 2001. It is an economic history of mankind from the earliest stages of human development to the present day. Reviewing it on behalf of the American Sociological Association, Professor Michael Mann of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) describes it as “an extraordinary book by an extraordinary man” and “a must-read.”

Raymond Crotty dies at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, at the age of 68, on January 1, 1994 and is buried in Tulla Cemetery outside Kilkenny.


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Michael D. Higgins Meets Pope Francis in Rome

michael-higgins-and-pope-francisPresident Michael D. Higgins discusses a range of issues including climate change, migration and the need to achieve social cohesion during a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome on May 22, 2017.

The meeting comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, where the potential for disagreement is high as Trump has clashed with the pontiff on migrants and expressed skepticism about man-made impact on the environment. The meeting with President Higgins, however, is much more congenial as both leaders are very much on the same page.

Higgins is given the traditional welcome for visiting heads of state to the Vatican. He is walked through the frescoed rooms of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace by men dressed in white tie and is then introduced to Pope Francis for their meeting, which lasts fifteen minutes.

Higgins’ visit comes six months after outgoing Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a papal audience after which he confirmed the Pope would be coming to Ireland in 2018. While their discussions take place behind closed doors, it is likely that Higgins once again extends the invitation for Pope Francis to visit the country. The Pope ultimately visits Ireland August 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families 2018.

At the end of a seemingly warm and friendly encounter, Higgins presents the Pope a “climate bell” designed by renowned citizen-artist Vivienne Roche and is meant to represent a call to action on protecting the planet. “This is a very important symbol” the president tells the Pope before briefly ringing the bell.

For his part, the Pope presents Higgins with his landmark encyclical on climate change, Laudato si’, and his two apostolic exhortations, Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia. He also presents the President with a medallion designed to represent the saying from Isaiah 32:15 which states “the desert will become a fertile ground.”

The audience takes place inside the Vatican Library with the use of an interpreter. Higgins, who has spent some time living in Latin America, concludes the meeting in the Pope’s native language, saying “muchos gracias.”