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


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Formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association

northern-ireland-civil-rights-associationThe Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), an organisation that campaigns for civil rights in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s and early 1970s, is formed in Belfast on April 9, 1967. The civil rights campaign attempts to achieve reform by publicising, documenting, and lobbying for an end to discrimination in areas such as elections (which are subject to gerrymandering and property requirements), discrimination in employment, in public housing and alleged abuses of the Special Powers Act.

Since Northern Ireland’s creation in 1922, the Catholic minority suffers from varying degrees of discrimination from the Protestant and Unionist majority. Many nationalist historians regard the ethos of Northern Ireland as unambiguously sectarian, however, academic and author Senia Paseta posits that discrimination was never as calculated as republicans maintained nor as fictional as unionists claimed. In fact, laws against religious discrimination are enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland’s constitution. No government of Northern Ireland, even if they want to, can create laws which overtly discriminated against any religious body of peoples.

The genesis of NICRA lay in a meeting in Maghera in August 1966 between the Wolfe Tone Societies which is attended by Cathal Goulding, then chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). During its formation, NICRA’s membership extends to trade unionists, communists, liberals, socialists, with republicans eventually constituting five of the thirteen members of its executive council. The organisation initially also has some unionists, with Young Unionist Robin Cole taking a position on its executive council. Official Sinn Féin and Official Irish Republican Army influence over NICRA grows in later years, but only as the latter’s importance declines, when violence escalated between late 1969 until 1972, when NICRA ceased its work.

Events escalate in Northern Ireland until August 1969, when the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry march is attacked as it marches through the city’s walls and past a perimeter with the nationalist Bogside. Initially some loyalist supporters throw pennies down from the walls onto Catholics in the Bogside. Catholics then throw nails and stones at loyalists leading to an intense confrontation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) intervenes, and a three-day riot known as the Battle of the Bogside ensues. Rioting quickly spreads throughout nationalist areas in Northern Ireland, where at least seven are killed and hundreds wounded. Thousands of Catholics are driven from their homes by loyalists. These events are often seen as the start of the Troubles.

In a subsequent official inquiry, Lord Leslie Scarman concludes, “We are satisfied that the spread of the disturbances [in Derry in August 1969] owed much to a deliberate decision of some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry. Amongst these groups must be included NICRA, whose executive decided to organise demonstrators in the Province so as to prevent reinforcement of the police in Londonderry.” In December 1969 and January 1970, both Sinn Féin and the IRA split into “Official” and “Provisional” wings, with the “Official” wings retaining influence in NICRA.

The British government introduces internment on August 9, 1971 at the request of Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner. The British Army, in co-operation with the RUC, intern 342 people. One hundred sixteen of those interned are innocent of involvement with the IRA and are quickly released.

The introduction of internment is not a closely guarded secret, with newspaper editorials appearing and discussion on television. The IRA goes underground or flees across the border. As a result, fewer than 100 arrests are from the IRA. By this stage, support for NICRA begins to wane, however NICRA continues to organise anti-internment marches. In Derry on January 30, 1972 NICRA takes part in a mass anti-internment march which had also been banned. Fourteen unarmed demonstrators are shot and killed by British troops during the march which becomes known as Bloody Sunday.


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Adoption of the Articles of Confederation

articles-of-confederationThe Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first written constitution of the United States is adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. A number of the members of the Congress hail from Ireland including Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson who is born in Maghera, County Derry in 1729. Thomson is the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. At least three signatories to the Declaration of Independence are Irish – James Smith, George Taylor, and Matthew Thornton.

The Articles of Confederation is approved, after much debate between July 1776 and November 1777, by the Second Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles come into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all thirteen states. A guiding principle of the Articles is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles receives only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.

The document provides clearly written rules for how the states’ “league of friendship” are to be organized. During the ratification process, the Congress looks to the Articles for guidance as it conducts business, directs the war effort, conducts diplomacy with foreign nations, addresses territorial issues and deals with Native American relations. Little changes politically once the Articles of Confederation go into effect, as ratification does little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had already been doing. That body is renamed the Congress of the Confederation however most Americans continue to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remains the same.

As the Confederation Congress attempts to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discover that the limitations placed upon the central government render it ineffective at doing so. As the government’s weaknesses become apparent, especially after Shays’ Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling nation begin asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope is to create a stronger national government.

Initially, some states meet to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states become interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting is set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This becomes the Constitutional Convention. It is quickly agreed that changes will not work, and instead the entire Articles needs to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles is replaced with the federal government under the Constitution of the United States. The new Constitution provides for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.


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Death of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress

Charles Thomson, Irish-born Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, dies in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, on August 16, 1824.

Thomson is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Londonderry, to Scots-Irish parents. After the death of his mother in 1739, his father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and his brothers. His father dies at sea and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London Township, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors’ American Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name (as secretary) appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he is misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. According to Thomas Jefferson, writing to John Adams, Thomson becomes senile in his old age, unable to recognize members of his own household.


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Birth of Charles Thomson, American Revolution Patriot

charles-thomsonCharles Thomson, Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Derry, on November 29, 1729.

After the death of his mother in 1739, Thomson’s father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. The father dies at sea, and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietorsAmerican Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. According to biographer Boyd Schlenther, Thomson “took a direct role in the conduct of foreign affairs.” Fred S. Rolater has suggested that Charles Thomson was essentially the “Prime Minister of the United States.” Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he was misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. Charles Thomson dies on August 16, 1824, in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.