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


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Birth of Irish American Novelist Thomas Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid, Irish American novelist, who fought in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), is born on April 4, 1818 in Ballyroney, a hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland.

Reid is the son of the Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid, a Presbyterian minister and later a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and his wife, a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he rebels against his father’s plans for him and decides not to pursue a career in the church. He briefly runs a school at Ballyroney before emigrating to the United States in 1839. Arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana, he finds a job as a corn factor’s clerk in the corn market. After six months he leaves because he refuses to whip slaves. Travelling across America, he works as a teacher, a clerk and an Indian-fighter, and anonymously publishes his first poem in August 1843. Later that year he meets Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia and the two become close friends. Poe later admits that Reid was ‘a colossal but most picturesque liar,’ but was impressed by his brilliant story-telling abilities.

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 Reid enlists in the 1st New York Infantry Regiment and is commissioned second lieutenant. Contributing a series of reports from the front under the pseudonym ‘Ecolier,’ he performs with great bravery in the Battle of Chapultepac on September 13, 1847. Wounded during the battle, he is promoted to first lieutenant three days later. Following his discharge from the army in 1848 he claims to have reached the rank of captain, but this is another of his inventions.

Reid’s first play, Love’s Martyr, is staged at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, for five nights in October 1848, and the following year he publishes an embellished account of his experiences in Mexico entitled War Life. All of his works are published under the name ‘Captain Mayne Reid.’ In July 1849 he sails to England with a group of Hungarian radicals, but decides against accompanying them to the Continent. Returning briefly to Ireland, he settles in London in 1850 and writes a novel, The Rifle Rangers. It is an immediate success and is followed quickly by The Scalp Hunters (1851), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). While in England in 1851 he meets and falls in love with a 13-year old girl, Elizabeth Hyde, daughter of his publisher, G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat. When he discovers her age he tells her that she is ‘getting old enough to have a lover, and you must have me.’ Two years later he continues with his suit, and this time is successful as they marry in 1853. He is immensely proud of his young bride, and later writes a semi-autobiographical novel The Child Wife (1868), based on their relationship.

Establishing a reputation as one of the most popular novelists of his generation, Reid does much to enhance the romantic image of the American West. His internationally successful books include The White Chief (1855), Bush Boys (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865), and his novel about miscegenation, The Quadroon (1856), is later plagiarised by Dion Boucicault for The Octoroon (1859). A champion croquet player, he writes a treatise on the subject in 1863.

Disaster strikes in November 1866 when Reid is declared bankrupt. He had squandered all his money on the construction of ‘The Ranche,’ a Mexican-style hacienda in England. To raise money he returns to the United States and embarks on a successful lecturing tour. Settling at Newport, Rhode Island, he writes another novel, The Helpless Hand (1868), which is a huge success and alleviates some of his difficulties. His wife hates America, however, and after he is briefly hospitalised in 1870 they decide to return to England.

Ill health, artistic doubts, and financial insecurity plagued Reid’s final years. Diagnosed with acute depression, he is unable to recapture his earlier audience and, despite a pension from the U.S. government, he struggles for money. He dies at Ross in Herefordshire on October 22, 1883 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Although not regarded as an important novelist, Reid none the less has a significant influence on subsequent writers. The young Vladimir Nabokov is deeply impressed by his adventure stories, and one of his own first works is a poetic recreation of The Headless Horseman in French alexandrine. Both Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle are admirers, and politicians as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Leon Trotsky also make reference to his varied output. In total, Reid publishes over sixty novels, which are printed in ten languages.


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Birth of William X. O’Brien, Politician & Trade Unionist

william-x-obrienWilliam X. O’Brien, politician and trade unionist, is born on January 23, 1881 in Clonakilty, County Cork. He is christened “John William.”

O’Brien moves with his family to Dublin in 1897, and quickly becomes involved in the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). He is described as “a very significant figure in the ISRP” by ISRP historian David Lynch. He is a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, serving on its executive.

A close friend and associate of James Connolly, O’Brien helps establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in 1909, and is instrumental in the Dublin lock-out strike in 1913.

A member of the Irish Neutrality League and Anti-Conscription Committee during World War I, O’Brien is interned on several occasions by the Dublin Castle government. During one of these instances, he stands in the 1920 Stockport by-election, but is refused a release to campaign in it.

With the formation of the Irish Free State, O’Brien is elected as Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin South at the 1922 general election, and again for Tipperary in June 1927 and again in 1937.

An important figure in the Labour Party in Ireland in its formative days, O’Brien resists James Larkin‘s attempt to gain control of the Party on release from prison. Taking Larkin to court over his occupation of ITGWU headquarters, the Larkin-O’Brien feud results in a split within the labour and trade union movements, and the formation of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

In 1930, O’Brien seeks to have Leon Trotsky granted asylum in Ireland, but the head of the Free State government, W. T. Cosgrave, refuses to allow it.

Active in politics and the trade union movement into his 60s, O’Brien retires in 1946 and dies on October 31, 1968.


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Birth of Sir Charles Brett, Solicitor & Journalist

long-shadows-cast-beforeSir Charles Edward Bainbridge Brett, Northern Irish solicitor, journalist, author and founding member, and first chairman, of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS), is born in Holywood, County Down, on October 30, 1928. He is known to many simply as Charlie Brett.

Brett is born into a long line of solicitors, the family firm being L’Estrange and Brett, based in Belfast. He is a partner there from 1954 until 1994. He is educated at Rugby School and New College, Oxford, where he is President of the Poetry Society and a friend of Dylan Thomas and attends lectures by Lord Clark.

Between 1949 and 1950 he works in France as a journalist with the Continental Daily Mail, where he is said to have mixed in anarchist and Trotskyite circles.

In 1956, the Earl of Antrim invites Brett to join the Northern Ireland Committee of the National Trust. On finding there are no books written to prepare himself for this, he resolves to write the necessary volumes. In 1957 he becomes the first chairman of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, founded alongside, amongst others Lady Dunleath. Brett serves as chairman for ten years and then as President from 1979 until his death.

With the National Trust he puts his legal skill to use in order to establish a public footpath along the cliffs of the North Coast of Ulster. He also sits on the board of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin.

In 1971, he is appointed to the board of the newly created Northern Ireland Housing Executive. He serves as Chairman for five years from 1979, during which time 50,000 dwellings are built. He is asked to compile a list of historic buildings in Jersey in 1975. In 1986, Brett becomes the first chairman of the International Fund for Ireland, established to encourage investment in Ireland.

Brett is also involved in Northern Irish politics, being chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party for a time. In 1981 he receives a CBE, this is followed by a Knighthood in 1990.

Brett dies on December 19, 2005. His church memorial is located along those of his family in the Comber Church of Ireland Parish Church of St. Mary, in Comber, North County Down.