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


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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Murder of Irish Crime Reporter Veronica Guerin

veronica-guerin-1Journalist and crime scene reporter Veronica Guerin is murdered by drug lords in Dublin on June 26, 1996, an event which helped establish the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).

Guerin is born in Artane, Dublin on July 5, 1958. She attends Catholic school where she excels in athletics and later studies accountancy at Trinity College, Dublin. She plays for both the Ireland women’s national basketball team and Republic of Ireland women’s national football team, representing the latter in a match against England at Dalymount Park in May 1981.

After she graduates, her father employs her at his company but, following his death three years later, she changes professions and starts a public relations firm in 1983, which she runs for seven years. In 1983–84, she serves as secretary to the Fianna Fáil group at the New Ireland Forum. She serves as Charles Haughey‘s personal assistant, and becomes a family friend, taking holidays with his children. In 1987 she serves as election agent and party treasurer in Dublin North for Seán Haughey.

In 1990, she changes careers again, switching to journalism as a reporter with The Sunday Business Post and Sunday Tribune, working under editor Damien Kiberd. Craving first-hand information, she pursues a story directly to the source with little regard for her personal safety, to engage those she deems central to a story. This allows her to build close relationships with both the legitimate authorities, such as the Garda Síochána, and the criminals, with both sides respecting her diligence by providing highly detailed information. She also reports on Irish Republican Army activities in the Republic of Ireland.

From 1994 onwards, she begins to write about criminals for the Sunday Independent. Using her accountancy knowledge to trace the proceeds of illegal activity, she uses street names or pseudonyms for organized crime figures to avoid Irish libel laws.

When she begins to cover drug dealers, and gains information from convicted drugs criminal John Traynor, she receives numerous death threats. The first violence against her occurs in October 1994, when two shots are fired into her home after her story on murdered crime kingpin Martin Cahill is published. Guerin dismisses the “warning.” The day after writing an article on Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, on January 30, 1995, she answers her doorbell to a man pointing a revolver at her head. The gunman misses and shoots her in the leg. Regardless, she vows to continue her investigations.

On September 13, 1995, convicted criminal John Gilligan, Traynor’s boss, attacks her when she confronts him about his lavish lifestyle with no source of income. He later calls her at home and threatens to kidnap and rape her son, and kill her if she writes anything about him.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, Gilligan drug gang members Charles Bowden, Brian Meehan, Kieran ‘Muscles’ Concannon, Peter Mitchell and Paul Ward meet at their distribution premises on the Greenmount Industrial Estate. The following day, while driving her red Opel Calibra, Guerin stops at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin, unaware she is being followed. She is shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle.

About an hour after Guerin is murdered, a meeting takes place in Moore Street, Dublin, between Bowden, Meehan, and Mitchell. Bowden later denies under oath in court that the purpose of the meeting is the disposal of the weapon but rather that it was an excuse to appear in a public setting to place them away from the incident.

At the time of her murder, Traynor is seeking a High Court order against Guerin to prevent her from publishing a book about his involvement in organised crime. Guerin is killed two days before she is due to speak at a Freedom Forum conference in London.

Guerin’s funeral is attended by Ireland’s Taoiseach John Bruton, and the head of the armed forces. It is covered live by Raidió Teilifís Éireann. On July 4, labour unions across Ireland call for a moment of silence in her memory, which is duly observed by people around the country. Guerin is buried in Dardistown Cemetery, County Dublin.

 


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Assassination of Sir Arthur Edward Vicars

arthur-vicarsSir Arthur Edward Vicars, genealogist and heraldic expert, is assassinated in Kilmorna, County Kerry by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 14, 1921.

Vicars is born on July 27, 1862 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, and is the youngest child of Colonel William Henry Vicars of the 61st Regiment of Foot and his wife Jane (nee Gun-Cunninghame). This is his mother’s second marriage, the first being to Pierce O’Mahony by whom she has two sons. He is very attached to his Irish half-brothers and spends much time at their residences. On completing his education at Magdalen College School, Oxford and Bromsgrove School he moves permanently to Ireland.

Vicars quickly develops an expertise in genealogical and heraldic matters and makes several attempts to be employed by the Irish heraldic administration of Ulster King of Arms, even offering to work for no pay. In 1891 he is one of the founder members of the County Kildare Archaeological Society and remains its honorary secretary until his death.

Vicars first attempts to find a post in the Office of Arms when in 1892 he applies unsuccessfully for the post of Athlone Pursuivant on the death of the incumbent, Bernard Louis Burke. In a letter dated October 2, 1892 his half-brother Pierce Mahony writes that Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, is dying and urges him to move at once. Burke dies in December 1892, and Vicars is appointed to the office by letters patent dated February 2, 1893. In 1896 he is knighted, in 1900 he is appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) and in 1903 he is elevated to Knight Commander of the Order (KCVO). He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and a trustee of the National Library of Ireland.

In 1897 Vicars publishes An Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536 -1810, a listing of all persons in wills proved in that period. This work becomes very valuable to genealogists after the destruction of the source material for the book in 1922 when the Public Record Office at the Four Courts is destroyed at the start of the Irish Civil War.

Vicars’ career is very distinguished until 1907 when it is hit by the scandal of the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. As Registrar of the Order of St. Patrick, he has custody of the insignia of the order, also known as the “crown jewels.” They are found to be missing on July 6, and a Crown Jewel Commission is established in January 1908 to investigate the disappearance. Vicars and his barrister Tim Healy refuse to attend the commission’s hearings. The commission’s findings are published on January 25, 1908 and he is dismissed as Ulster five days later.

On November 23, 1912, the Daily Mail publishes serious false allegations against Vicars. The substance of the article is that Vicars had allowed a woman reported to be his mistress to obtain a copy of the key to the safe and that she had fled to Paris with the jewels. In July 1913 he successfully sues the paper for libel. The paper admits that the story is completely baseless and that the woman in question does not exist. He is awarded damages of £5,000.

Vicars leaves Dublin and moves to Kilmorna, near Listowel, County Kerry, the former seat of one of his half-brothers. He marries Gertrude Wright in Ballymore, County Westmeath on July 4, 1917. He continues to protest his innocence until his death, even including bitter references to the affair in his will.

In May 1920 up to a hundred armed men break into Kilmorna House and hold Vicars at gunpoint while they attempt to break into the house’s strongroom. On April 14, 1921, he is taken from Kilmorna House, which is set afire, and shot dead in front of his wife. According to the communiqué issued from Dublin Castle, thirty armed men took him from his bed and shot him, leaving a placard around his neck denouncing him as an informer. On April 27, as an official reprisal, four shops are destroyed by British Armed Forces in the town of Listowel. The proclamation given under Martial law and ordering their demolition states:

“For any outrage carried out in future against the lives or property of loyalist officials, reprisals will be taken against selected persons known to have rebel sympathies, although their implication has not been proved.”

Vicars is buried in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire on April 20, 1921. His wife dies in Somerset in 1946.


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Birth of Patrick Kavanagh, Poet & Writer

Patrick Kavanagh, Irish poet and novelist whose best-known works include the novel Tarry Flynn, and the poems “On Raglan Road” and “The Great Hunger,” is born in rural Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on October 21, 1904. He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.

Kavanagh is the fourth of ten children of James Kavanagh, a cobbler and farmer, and Bridget Quinn. He is a pupil at Kednaminsha National School from 1909 to 1916, leaving in the sixth year at the age of 13. He becomes apprenticed to his father as a shoemaker and works on his farm. He is also goalkeeper for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team.

Kavanagh’s first published work appears in 1928 in the Dundalk Democrat and the Irish Independent. In 1931, he walks 80 kilometres to meet George William Russell in Dublin, where Kavanagh’s brother is a teacher. Russell gives him books, among them works by Feodor Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Browning, and becomes Kavanagh’s literary adviser.

Kavanagh’s first collection, Ploughman and Other Poems, is published in 1936. It is notable for its realistic portrayal of Irish country life, free of the romantic sentiment often seen at the time in rural poems, a trait he abhors. Two years after his first collection is published he has yet to make a significant impression. The Times Literary Supplement describes him as “a young Irish poet of promise rather than of achievement.”

In 1938 Kavanagh goes to London and remains there for about five months. The Green Fool, a loosely autobiographical novel, is published in 1938 and Kavanagh is accused of libel by Oliver St. John Gogarty who sues Kavanagh for his description of mistaking Gogarty’s “white-robed maid for his wife or his mistress.” Gogarty is awarded £100 in damages. The book, which recounts Kavanagh’s rural childhood and his attempts to become a writer, receives international recognition and good reviews.

Patrick Kavanagh dies on November 30, 1967 from an attack of bronchitis, bringing to a close the life of one of Ireland’s most controversial and colorful literary figures. Kavanagh’s reputation as a poet is based on the lyrical quality of his work, his mastery of language and form and his ability to transform the ordinary into something of significance.


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The Suicide of Reverend William Jackson

william-jacksonThe Reverend William Jackson, noted Irish preacher, journalist, playwright, radical, and spy, commits suicide on April 30, 1795 after being found guilty of high treason.

Jackson was born in Newtownards, County Down, in 1737. Much is unclear about his early life. He studies at Oxford and became an Anglican curate. In the 1760s, he moves to London, where he preaches at the Tavistock Chapel and St. Mary-le-Strand. Although he gains some popularity as a preacher, he remains unbeneficed and eventually turns to journalism to support himself.

In 1766, Jackson becomes the editor of The Public Ledger. Under his editorship, the London paper becomes increasingly strident and oppositional in its politics. He is forced to flee to France in April 1777 to avoid a trial for libel that the popular actor and playwright Samuel Foote had initiated. He does not have to stay long in exile because Foote dies on October 21 of that same year.

After Foote’s death, Jackson returns to England. He resumes his political activities by publishing The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America in 1783, with a dedication to the opposition leader, William Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland. But the following year, he is secretly hired by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, to support the government in The Morning Post. Publishing anonymously, he attacks his former allies with his usual vehemence until he is discovered and is soundly damned for his apostasy and finds himself generally excluded from English politics.

Jackson’s next appearance in the public results in yet another scandal. In 1787 he joins forces with “Gentleman” John Palmer. Their goal is to build a new theatre in London. Jackson and Palmer persuade investors to sink more than eighteen thousand pounds into the construction of the Royalty Theatre. However, while there is no law against building a theatre in London, there is a law against operating one without the Lord Chamberlain‘s authorisation. Jackson and Palmer have no such authorisation so the theatre is shut down after just one night. The duped investors initiated legal action. Jackson again flees to France, where he arrives on the eve of revolution.

During his stay in Paris, Jackson is swept up in the revolutionary fervour and becomes involved with the radical British expatriate set there. Swept up in the general arrest of British subjects in 1793, he is released from prison on the strength of his radical commitments. Upon his release, he becomes inspector of horses for Meaux and later in 1793 is commissioned as a spy for the French. Nicholas Madgett, an Irishman who works in the Marine Ministry, recruits Jackson to go to England and Ireland to assess the public’s inclination towards armed revolution.

Jackson arrives in London in early 1794 and becomes reacquainted with John Cockayne, a lawyer he had met two decades earlier. He reveals his mission to Cockayne, who promptly reveals it to the Prime Minister out of fear of being tried for treason himself. When Jackson leaves London for Dublin, he is accompanied by Cockayne. In Ireland they meet with several radical leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Reynolds and Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Hamilton Rowan, in particular, is tempted by Jackson’s talk of French assistance, and persuades Tone to write up a report for the French, indicating Irish willingness to rise up. Jackson makes the fatal mistake of placing Tone’s report and other letters in the public mail, where they are seized by the authorities. This seizure leads to Jackson’s arrest on April 28, 1794.

Jackson remains in prison for a year before his trial takes place. The delays are at his request, allowing him time to assemble a defence and procure witnesses. During his imprisonment, he writes his last work, Observations in Answer to Mr. Paine’s Age of Reason (1795). His trial takes place in Dublin on April 23, 1795, and he is found guilty. One week later, on the morning of his sentencing hearing Jackson steps into the dock looking terribly ill. As his lawyers make drawn out speeches, hoping to avoid judgment on the technicality of an improperly filed indictment, Jackson’s condition steadily worsens. The judges order that a chair be provided for him and ask that a doctor attend him. He then collapses and dies. An autopsy finds that Jackson had ingested a large quantity of a “metallic poison.” This is likely administered by his second wife, but the inquest pointedly refuses to assign blame.

The effect of Jackson’s suicide is that he had not actually been pronounced guilty of treason by the court, and so his family can inherit his goods and a pension.


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William J. Brennan Appointed to U.S. Supreme Court

william-brennanWilliam Joseph Brennan, Jr., American judge, is named an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States through a recess appointment by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 15, 1956, shortly before the 1956 presidential election. He serves from 1956 until July 20, 1990. As the seventh longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, he is known for being a leader of the Court’s liberal wing.

Brennan is born in Newark, New Jersey to Irish immigrants, originally from County Roscommon, on April 25, 1906. He attends public schools in Newark, graduating from Barringer High School in 1924. He then attends the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduates cum laude with a degree in economics in 1928. He graduates from Harvard Law School near the top of his class in 1931 and is a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Brennan enters private practice in New Jersey and serves in the United States Army during World War II. He is appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1951. After his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by Eisenhower in 1956, he wins Senate confirmation the following year.

On the Supreme Court, Brennan is known for his outspoken progressive views, including opposition to the death penalty and support for abortion rights. He authors several landmark case opinions, including Baker v. Carr, establishing the “one person, one vote” principle, and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which requires “actual malice” in libel suits brought by public officials. Due to his ability to shape a wide variety of opinions and “bargain” for votes in many cases, he is considered to be among the Court’s most influential members. Justice Antonin Scalia calls Brennan “probably the most influential Justice of the [20th] century.”

Brennan holds the post on the Court until his retirement on July 20, 1990 after suffering a stroke. He is succeeded by Justice David Souter. Brennan then teaches at Georgetown University Law Center until 1994. He dies in Arlington County, Virginia on July 24, 1997 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

With 1,360 opinions, he is second only to William O. Douglas in number of opinions written while a Supreme Court justice. On November 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton presents Brennan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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Murder of IRA Paramilitary Eamon Collins

eamon-collinsEamon Collins, a Provisional Irish Republican Army paramilitary in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death near his home in Newry, County Down on January 27, 1999.

Collins grows up in a middle-class Irish family in Camlough, a small, staunchly Irish republican town in County Armagh. After completing his schooling, he works for a time in the Ministry of Defence in a clerical capacity in London before studying law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he becomes influenced by Marxist political ideology. He eventually drops out of university and, after working in a pub for a period, joins Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise Service, serving in Newry, and goes on to use this internal position within the administrative machinery of the British Government to support IRA operations against Crown Forces personnel.

Collins joins the Provisional IRA during the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates in the late 1970s and he becomes involved in street demonstrations. He joins the South Down Brigade of the IRA, based around Newry, and is appointed its intelligence officer.

Collins becomes noted within IRA circles for his hard-line views on the continuance of armed campaign, and later joins its Internal Security Unit. Around this time he has a confrontation with Gerry Adams at the funeral of an IRA man killed in a failed bombing over how to deal with the funeral’s policing, where he accuses Adams a being a “Stick.”

Despite his militarist convictions at this time Collins finds the psychological strain caused by his involvement in the terrorist war increasingly difficult to address. His belief in the martial discipline of the IRA’s campaign is seriously undermined by the March 11, 1982 assassination of Norman Hanna, a 28-year-old Newry man, in front of his wife and young daughter. His uneasy state is further augmented by being arrested on two occasions under anti-terrorism laws, the second including a week of detention and intense interrogation.

Collins subsequently states that the strain of the interrogation merely exacerbates increasing doubts that he has already possessed about the moral justification of the IRA’s terrorist paramilitary campaign and his actions within it. These doubts are made worse by the organization’s senior leadership quietly deciding in the early 1980s that the war has failed and now slowly manoeuvering the movement away from a military campaign to allow its political wing, Sinn Féin, to pursue its purposes by another means in what would become the Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1987, after being charged with several counts of murder and attempted murder, Collins is acquitted as the statement in which he admits to involvement in these acts is ruled legally inadmissible by the court. On release from prison he spends several weeks being counter-interrogated by the IRA’s Internal Security Unit, after which he is exiled by the organization from Ulster, being warned that if he is found north of Drogheda after a certain date he will be executed.

After his exile Collins moves to Dublin and squats for a while in a deserted flat in the impoverished Ballymun area of the city. After several years in Dublin, he subsequently moves to Edinburgh, Scotland for a period, where he runs a youth centre.

In 1995 Collins returns to Newry, a district known for the militancy of its communal support of the IRA, with numerous IRA members in its midst. The IRA order exiling him from Ulster has not been lifted, but with a formal ceasefire from the organization and renunciations of violence by all the paramilitary organizations in the province, he deems it safe to move back in with his wife and children who had never left the town.

Rather than maintaining a low profile Collins decides to take a prominent role in the ongoing transition of Ulster’s post-war society, using his personal history as a platform in the media to analyze the adverse effects of terrorism. In May 1998 he gives evidence against leading republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy in a libel case Murphy has brought against The Sunday Times, over a 1985 article naming him as the IRA’s Northern Commander. Murphy denies IRA membership, but Collins takes the witness stand against him, and testifies that from personal experience he knew that Murphy had been a key military leader in the organization. Murphy subsequently loses the libel case and sustains substantial financial losses in consequence. Collins and his family receive numerous threats after the trial.

Collins is beaten and stabbed to death by one or more unidentified assailants early in the morning of January 27, 1999, while walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill. His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comment upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that he had returned to Ulster in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish terrorist paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy.

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated by the condition of his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the town’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he had helped to organize in 1982.


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Death of Poet & Novelist Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh, Irish poet and novelist whose best-known works include the novel Tarry Flynn, and the poems “On Raglan Road” and “The Great Hunger,” dies in Dublin on November 30, 1967. He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.

Kavanagh was born in rural Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on October 21, 1904, the fourth of ten children of James Kavanagh, a cobbler and farmer, and Bridget Quinn. He is a pupil at Kednaminsha National School from 1909 to 1916, leaving in the sixth year at the age of 13. He becomes apprenticed to his father as a shoemaker and works on his farm. He is also goalkeeper for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team.

Kavanagh’s first published work appears in 1928 in the Dundalk Democrat and the Irish Independent. In 1931, he walks 80 kilometres to meet George William Russell in Dublin, where Kavanagh’s brother is a teacher. Russell gives him books, among them works by Feodor Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Browning, and becomes Kavanagh’s literary adviser.

Kavanagh’s first collection, Ploughman and Other Poems, is published in 1936. It is notable for its realistic portrayal of Irish country life, free of the romantic sentiment often seen at the time in rural poems, a trait he abhorred. Two years after his first collection is published he has yet to make a significant impression. The Times Literary Supplement describes him as “a young Irish poet of promise rather than of achievement.”

In 1938 Kavanagh goes to London and remains there for about five months. The Green Fool, a loosely autobiographical novel, is published in 1938 and Kavanagh is accused of libel by Oliver St. John Gogarty who sues Kavanagh for his description of mistaking Gogarty’s “white-robed maid for his wife or his mistress.” Gogarty is awarded £100 in damages. The book, which recounts Kavanagh’s rural childhood and his attempts to become a writer, receives international recognition and good reviews.

Patrick Kavanagh dies on November 30, 1967 from an attack of bronchitis, bringing to a close the life of one of Ireland’s most controversial and colorful literary figures. Kavanagh’s reputation as a poet is based on the lyrical quality of his work, his mastery of language and form and his ability to transform the ordinary into something of significance.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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Birth of Crime Reporter Veronica Guerin

Veronica Guerin, Irish crime reporter, is born in Artane, Dublin, on July 5, 1958. Guerin attends Catholic school where she excels in athletics and later studies accountancy at Trinity College, Dublin. She plays for both the Ireland women’s national basketball team and Republic of Ireland women’s national football team, representing the latter in a match against England at Dalymount Park in May 1981.

After she graduates, her father employs her at his company but, following his death three years later, she changes professions and starts a public relations firm in 1983, which she runs for seven years. In 1983–84, she serves as secretary to the Fianna Fáil group at the New Ireland Forum. She serves as Charles Haughey‘s personal assistant, and becomes a family friend, taking holidays with his children. In 1987 she serves as election agent and party treasurer in Dublin North for Seán Haughey.

In 1990, she changes careers again, switching to journalism as a reporter with The Sunday Business Post and Sunday Tribune, working under editor Damien Kiberd. Craving first-hand information, she pursues a story directly to the source with little regard for her personal safety, to engage those she deems central to a story. This allows her to build close relationships with both the legitimate authorities, such as the Garda Síochána, and the criminals, with both sides respecting her diligence by providing highly detailed information. She also reports on Irish Republican Army activities in the Republic of Ireland.

From 1994 onwards, she begins to write about criminals for the Sunday Independent. Using her accountancy knowledge to trace the proceeds of illegal activity, she uses street names or pseudonyms for organized crime figures to avoid Irish libel laws.

When she begins to cover drug dealers, and gains information from convicted drugs criminal John Traynor, she receives numerous death threats. The first violence against her occurs in October 1994, when two shots are fired into her home after her story on murdered crime kingpin Martin Cahill is published. Guerin dismisses the “warning.” The day after writing an article on Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, on January 30, 1995, she answers her doorbell to a man pointing a revolver at her head. The gunman misses and shoots her in the leg. Regardless, she vows to continue her investigations.

On September 13, 1995, convicted criminal John Gilligan, Traynor’s boss, attacks her when she confronts him about his lavish lifestyle with no source of income. He later calls her at home and threatens to kidnap and rape her son, and kill her if she writes anything about him.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, Gilligan drug gang members Charles Bowden, Brian Meehan, Kieran ‘Muscles’ Concannon, Peter Mitchell and Paul Ward meet at their distribution premises on the Greenmount Industrial Estate. The following day, while driving her red Opel Calibra, Guerin stops at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin, unaware she is being followed. She is shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle.

About an hour after Guerin is murdered, a meeting takes place in Moore Street, Dublin, between Bowden, Meehan, and Mitchell. Bowden later denies under oath in court that the purpose of the meeting is the disposal of the weapon but rather that it was an excuse to appear in a public setting to place them away from the incident.

At the time of her murder, Traynor is seeking a High Court order against Guerin to prevent her from publishing a book about his involvement in organised crime. Guerin is killed two days before she is due to speak at a Freedom Forum conference in London.

Guerin’s funeral is attended by Ireland’s Taoiseach John Bruton, and the head of the armed forces. It is covered live by Raidió Teilifís Éireann. On July 4, labour unions across Ireland call for a moment of silence in her memory, which is duly observed by people around the country. Guerin is buried in Dardistown Cemetery, County Dublin.