seamus dubhghaill

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


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Sinking of the SS Tuscania

ss-tuscaniaThe SS Tuscania, a luxury liner of the Cunard Line subsidiary Anchor Line converted for troop use, is torpedoed and sunk on February 5, 1918 off Rathlin Island, north of Ireland by the German U-boat UB-77. The ship is transporting over 2,000 American troops to the war in Europe. Over 200 people lose their lives.

SS Tuscania carries passengers between New York City and Glasgow while in service with the Anchor Line, on a route that had previously been assigned to her sister ship SS Transylvania. She continues to run this route even as World War I breaks out in Europe in August 1914 and Germany initiates a submarine campaign against merchant shipping in waters near the United Kingdom.

SS Tuscania makes international headlines for rescuing passengers and crew from the burning Greek steamer SS Athinai on September 20, 1915. In 1916, SS Tuscania is refitted and pressed into service as a troopship. She makes the news again in March 1917 by evading a submarine and a suspected Imperial German Navy armed merchant cruiser.

On January 24, 1918, SS Tuscania departs Hoboken, New Jersey, with 384 crew members and 2,013 United States Army personnel aboard. On the morning of February 5, 1918, she turns south for the North Channel en route to Liverpool. The German submarine UB-77 sights SS Tuscania′s convoy during the day and stalks it until early evening. Under the cover of darkness at about 6:40 PM, the submarine′s commanding officer, Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Meyer, orders two torpedoes fired at SS Tuscania. The second of these strikes home, sending her to the bottom of the Irish Sea within about four hours. SS Tuscania sinks nearly three years to the day after her maiden voyage as a passenger liner. Approximately 210 of the troops and crew are lost, while many others are rescued by the Royal Navy destroyers HMS Mosquito and HMS Pigeon.

Three notable passengers who survive the sinking are British critic Sydney Brooks, Leonard Read, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, and Harry Randall Truman who later dies in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

The wreck of SS Tuscania lies between Scotland‘s Islay and Northern Ireland′s Rathlin Island, about 7 nautical miles north of Rathlin lighthouse, at roughly 55.41°N 06.185°W in 328 feet of water.

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Death of Writer Robert Tressell

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, dies in Liverpool, England on February 3, 1911. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is born in Dublin on April 18, 1870, the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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British Release of Fenian Prisoners

cuba-fiveThe British, in a general amnesty, release 33 Fenian prisoners on January 5, 1871. Most of these prisoners are men who have either been swept up by the British in 1865, when they suppressed the Fenian newspaper The Irish People for taking part in the Fenian Rising of March 1867, or had been rounded up after the “Smashing of the Van” rescue of Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy in September 1867.

The British penal system of the period is brutal under normal circumstances, and the Fenians receive much harsher treatment than that received by the normal inmates. Those Fenians still on the outside agitate constantly for the release of their comrades. The man most responsible for the release of 1871 is John “Amnesty” Nolan, who thus earns his sobriquet.

The names of many of the men released by William Ewart Gladstone’s government are well known to those who have studied the Irish Republican movement. One of them is Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, as steadfast an enemy of English rule in Ireland as any who has ever lived. After Rossa’s death in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland for burial, and his funeral in 1915 includes the famous eulogy by Patrick Pearse, one of the seminal moments in the renewal of armed struggle for Irish freedom. Another Fenian released that day is John Devoy, who perhaps more than any other man keeps the struggle for Irish freedom alive among Irish exiles in America.

The British government releases the Fenians on condition that they exile themselves to the country of their choice and not return until their sentences have expired. Many chose to go to Australia, but Rossa, Devoy, John McClure, Henry Mulleda, and Charles Underwood O’Connell, who have all been imprisoned together, chose to go to the United States and ship together from Liverpool on board the Cuba. The so-called Cuba Five arrive in New York City to a hero’s welcome from the city’s large Irish community and even receive a resolution of welcome from the United States House of Representatives.

(Pictured: “The Cuba Five” – John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda and John McClure)


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Birth of Boxer Jimmy McLarnin

jimmy-mclarninJames Archibald McLarnin, Irish Canadian professional boxer who became a two-time welterweight world champion and an International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, is born on December 19, 1907, in Hillsborough, County Down. He has been referred to as the greatest Irish boxer of all time. BoxRec ranks him as the 11th best pound-for-pound fighter of all-time, the second best Canadian boxer of all time after Sam Langford, and the third greatest welterweight of all time.

When McLarnin is three years old the family emigrates to Saskatchewan, Canada via Liverpool. The McLarnins start out as a wheat farmers, but years later, following a particularly harsh winter, the family moves to Vancouver where they open a second-hand clothing store in Vancouver’s east end.

McLarnin is prodigious athlete, his main sports are football, baseball and boxing. He takes up boxing at the age of 10 after getting into a fight defending his newspaper-selling pitch. Former professional boxer Charles “Pop” Foster recognizes McLarnin’s talent at the age of 13. He constructs a makeshift gym for McLarnin to train in, sure that he will one day be the champion of the world. The two of them remain close, and when Foster dies, he leaves everything he has to McLarnin.

Following a successful start to his career in Vancouver, McLarnin grows aggrieved at the low pay he is receiving for bouts and decides to move to San Francisco. There his youthful appearance makes it difficult to get a fight until he lies about his age. It is for this reason that McLarnin is known as the “Baby-faced Assassin.” Despite his youthful appearance, McLarnin has incredible power with both fists, his right being particularly feared. Towards the end of his career he is forced to become more of a scientific boxer to reduce further injuries to his hands.

McLarnin loses his first title shot on May 21, 1928 in New York City against world lightweight champion Sammy Mandell. However, he does go on to beat him twice in the following two years. It is five years before McLarnin gets another title shot, during which time he knocks out gifted Jewish contenders Al Singer, Ruby Goldstein, and Sid Terris.

McLarnin’s second title shot comes against welterweight champion Young Corbett III. McLarnin wins by knockout after only 2 minutes 37 seconds. Following his title success, he fights an epic three-fight series with Barney Ross. The first fight, on May 28, 1934, is won by Ross, but McLarnin regains his title in their next match four months later. In the deciding fight on May 28, 1935, McLarnin loses his title for the final time in a narrow decision.

McLarnin retires in November 1936 still at the top of his game, having won his last two fights against all-time greats Tony Canzoneri and Lou Ambers. His record is 54 wins, 11 losses, and 3 draws in 68 contests. He never returns to the ring despite large incentives for him to do so. Unlike many boxers, he invested his money wisely and retires a wealthy man. He opens an electrical goods store, and also does some acting, golfing, and lecturing.

In 1996 The Ring votes McLarnin the fifth-greatest welterweight of all time.

Jimmy McLarnin dies on October 28, 2004 at the age of 96 in Richland, Washington. He is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.


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Death of Thomas “Buck” Whaley

Thomas Whaley, Irish gambler and member of the Irish House of Commons commonly known as Buck Whaley or Jerusalem Whaley, dies on November 2, 1800, in England.

Whaley is born in Dublin on December 15, 1766, the eldest surviving son of the landowner, magistrate and former Member of Parliament Richard Chapell Whaley. At the age of sixteen, he is sent to Europe on the Grand tour, accompanied by a tutor. He settles in Paris for some time, maintaining both a country residence and town house, but is forced to leave Paris when his cheque for the amount of £14,000, to settle gambling debts accrued in one night of gambling, is refused by his bankers. Following his return to Dublin, Whaley, at the age of eighteen, is elected to the Irish House of Commons in 1785 representing the constituency of Newcastle in County Dublin.

While dining with William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster at Leinster House, wagers totaling £15,000 are offered that Whaley cannot travel to Jerusalem and back within two years and provide proof of his success. The reasoning of those offering the bets is based on the belief that, as the region was part of the Ottoman Empire and had a reputation for widespread banditry, it will be too dangerous for travelers and it will be unlikely that Whaley can complete the journey.

Whaley embarks from Dublin on October 8, 1788. He sails first to Deal, Kent, where he is joined by a companion, a Captain Wilson, and then on to Gibraltar. In Gibraltar, his party is joined by another military officer, Captain Hugh Moore. The party sets sail for the port of Smyrna, although Wilson is prevented from travelling any further due to rheumatic fever. The remaining pair make an overland journey from there to Constantinople, arriving in December.

The British ambassador in Constantinople introduces Whaley to the Vizier Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Pasha. Taking a liking to Whaley, Hasan Pasha provides him with permits to visit Jerusalem. Whaley’s party leaves Constantinople on January 21, 1789 by ship and sail to Acre, Israel. He encounters the Wāli of Acre and Galillee, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. Al-Jazzar, notoriously known as “The Butcher” in the region he rules, takes a liking to Whaley and, though he dismisses the documents issued in Constantinople as worthless, he permits Whaley to continue his journey.

Whaley and his companions make their way overland to Jerusalem, arriving on January 28. During his visit, he stays at a Franciscan monastery, the Convent of Terra Sancta. It is a signed certificate from the superior of this institution, along with detailed observations of the buildings of Jerusalem, that provide the proof needed to prove the success of his journey. They stay for little over a month before returning overland to Ireland.

Whaley arrives back in Dublin in the summer of 1789 to great celebrations and collects the winnings of the wager. The trip costs him a total of £8,000, leaving him a profit of £7,000.

Following his Jerusalem exploit, Whaley remains in Dublin for two years and later spends time in London and travelling in Europe, including Paris during the Revolutionary period. Due to mounting debts, he is forced to sell much of his estate in the early 1790s and these financial problems also lead to his departure from Dublin.

Thomas Whaley dies on November 2, 1800 in the Cheshire town of Knutsford, while travelling from Liverpool to London. The cause of death is attributed to rheumatic fever, although a popular story circulated in Ireland is that he is stabbed in a jealous rage by one of two sisters, both of whom are objects of his attentions.


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Birth of Margaret “Gretta” Cousins, Educationist & Suffragist

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie), also known as Gretta Cousins, Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, is born into an Irish Protestant family in Boyle, County Roscommon, on October 7, 1878.

Gillespie is educated locally and in Derry. She studies music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and becomes a teacher. As a student she meets the poet and literary critic James Cousins. They are married in 1903. The pair explore socialism, vegetarianism, and parapsychology together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women (NCW) meeting in Manchester, Cousins joins the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attend the London convention of the Theosophical Society, and she makes contact with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.

Cousins co-founds the Irish Women’s Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer. In 1910 she is one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempt to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons have been arrested, fifty requiring medical treatment, the women decide to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins is arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.

Vacationing with William Butler Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband hear Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists are arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demand to be treated as political prisoners, and go on hunger strike to achieve release.

In 1913, she and her husband move to Liverpool, where James Cousins works in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they move to India. James Cousins initially works for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant. After Besant is forced to dismiss him for an article praising the 1916 Easter Rising, she appoints him Vice-Principal of the new Besant Theosophical College, where Margaret teaches English.

In 1916, Cousins becomes the first non-Indian member of the SNDT Women’s University at Poona. In 1917, Cousins co-founds the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edits the WIA’s journal, Stri Dharma. In 1919 Cousins becomes the first Head of the National Girls’ School at Mangalore. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Besant Theosophical College. In 1922, she becomes the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founds the All India Women’s Conference, serving as its President in 1936.

In 1932, she is arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures. By the late 1930s she feels conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

“I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.”

A stroke leaves Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She receives financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India. She dies on March 11, 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.


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Launch of the RMS Oceanic

RMS Oceanic, the White Star Line‘s first liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, is launched on August 27, 1870, arriving in Liverpool, England for her maiden voyage on February 26, 1871.

Three sister ships are constructed in rapid succession: RMS Atlantic, SS Baltic, and SS Republic. All are of the same approximate dimensions with differences in tonnage.

Powered by a combination of steam and sail, RMS Oceanic has twelve boilers generating steam for a single four-cylinder compound steam engine. A single funnel exhausts smoke and four masts carry sails. The hull is constructed of iron and divided into eleven watertight compartments. Passenger accommodations are located on the two decks concealed within the hull. RMS Oceanic can carry 166 First Class passengers, referred to as Saloon Passengers in the day and 1,000 Steerage Passengers, along with a 143-man crew. White Star spares no expense in her construction, and the contemporary press describes the ship as an “imperial yacht.”

RMS Oceanic leaves Liverpool for her maiden voyage on March 2, 1871 carrying only 64 passengers, under Captain Sir Digby Murray. Not long after departing, she has to return because of overheated bearings. Her voyage restarts on March 16. From that point onward, RMS Oceanic is a success for The White Star Line.

In January, 1872, RMS Oceanic undergoes a refit, during which a large forecastle is added to help prevent the bow being inundated during high seas. Two new boilers are added to increase steam pressure and thus engine power, and the four masts are shortened.

RMS Oceanic continues sailing with the White Star line on the Liverpool to New York City route until March 11, 1875, when she is chartered to the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company, for service between San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong. White Star provides the officers, while the crew is Chinese. The ship itself remains in White Star colours, but flies the O&O flag. During the repositioning voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong, RMS Oceanic sets a speed record for that route. Later, she also sets a speed record for Yokohama to San Francisco in December 1876, and then breaks her own record over that route in November, 1889, with a time of 13 days, 14 hours and 5 minutes.

On August 22, 1888, RMS Oceanic collides with the coastal liner SS City of Chester just outside the Golden Gate. The SS City of Chester sinks, killing 16 on board.

On January 7, 1890, Nellie Bly boards RMS Oceanic in Yokohama to cross the Pacific as part of her voyage Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. She arrives in San Francisco on January 21, 1890, which is a day behind schedule as a result of rough weather.

In 1895, RMS Oceanic is returned to White Star, which plans to put her back into service. She is sent back to Harland and Wolff for re-engining, but when the ship is inspected closely, it is found to be uneconomical to perform all the work needed. Instead, RMS Oceanic is sold for scrap, leaving Belfast for the last time on February 10, 1896, under tow, for a scrapyard on the River Thames.