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


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)

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Death of Robert John Kane, Chemist & Educator

robert-john-kaneSir Robert John Kane, chemist and educator, dies at the age of 80 in Dublin on February 16, 1890. In a distinguished career, he founds the Dublin Journal of Medical  & Chemical Science, is Vice-Chancellor of Royal University of Ireland and is director of the Museum of Irish Industry.

Kane is born at 48 Henry Street, Dublin on September 24, 1809 to John and Eleanor Kean (née Troy). His father is involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and flees for a time to France where he studies chemistry. Back in Dublin, Kean (now Kane) founds the Kane Company and manufactures sulfuric acid.

Kane studies chemistry at his father’s factory and attends lectures at the Royal Dublin Society as a teenager. He publishes his first paper in 1828, Observations on the existence of chlorine in the native peroxide of manganese, in the London Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and Art. The following year, his description of the natural arsenide of manganese results in the compound being named Kaneite in his honour. He studies medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1834 while working in the Meath Hospital. He is appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Apothecaries’ Hall, Dublin in 1831, which earns him the moniker of the “boy professor.” In the following year he participates in the founding of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science.

On the strength of his book Elements of Practical Pharmacy, Kane is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832. He studies acids, shows that hydrogen is electropositive, and proposes the existence of the ethyl radical. In 1836 he travels to Giessen in Germany to study organic chemistry with Justus von Liebig. In 1843 he is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s Cunningham Medal for his work on the nature and constitution of compounds of ammonia.

Kane publishes a three-volume Elements of Chemistry in 1841–1844, and a detailed report on the Industrial Resources of Ireland. This includes the first assessment of the water power potential of the River Shannon, which is not realised until the 1920s at Ardnacrusha.

Kane becomes a political adviser on scientific and industrial matters. He serves on several commissions to enquire into the Great Irish Famine, along with Professors Lindley and Taylor, all more or less ineffective. His political and administrative work means that his contribution to chemistry ceases after about 1844.

Kane’s work on Irish industry leads to his being appointed director of the Museum of Irish Industry in Dublin in 1845. The Museum is a successor to the Museum of Economic Geology, and is housed at 51 St. Stephen’s Green.

Also in 1845 Kane becomes the first President of Queen’s College, Cork (now University College Cork). He does not spend a lot of time in Cork as he has work in Dublin, and his wife lives there. The science building on the campus is named in his honour. He is knighted in 1846.

In 1873 Kane takes up the post of National Commissioner for Education. He is elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877, holding the role until 1882. In 1880 he is appointed the first chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland. After a motion to admit women to the University, put forward by Prof. Samuel Haughton at Academic Council in Trinity College Dublin, March 10, 1880, Kane is appointed to a committee of ten men to look into the matter. He is opposed to the admission of women, and nothing is reported from the committee in the Council minutes for the next ten years.


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Birth of Sir Philip Crampton, Surgeon & Anatomist

philip-cramptonSir Philip Crampton, 1st Baronet, FRS, an eminent Irish surgeon and anatomist, is born in Dublin on June 7, 1777.

Crampton is the son of a dentist. He is a childhood friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the United Irishman, and a cousin, on his mother’s side, of Thomas Verner, Grand Master of the Orange Order. He joins the army when young and becomes an assistant surgeon. When he is appointed surgeon to the Meath Hospital in 1798 he is not yet fully qualified, and goes on to graduate in Glasgow in 1800. A few years later he also becomes assistant surgeon at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Dublin and also builds up a large private practice at his house in Dawson St. He joins Peter Harkan in teaching anatomy in private lectures, forming the first private school of anatomy and surgery in the city.

Crampton becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in Ireland for a treatise on the construction of eyes of birds, written in 1813. This is later published, with other writings, in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science.

In 1821, together with Sir Henry Marsh and Dr. Charles Johnston, Crompton founds the Pitt St. Institution, a children’s hospital in Pitt St. (now Balfe St.). This hospital is the first teaching children’s hospital in Ireland or Great Britain. The main objective of the hospital is to treat sick children in one of the poorest parts of Dublin, The Liberties.

Crompton resigns the chief-surgeoncy of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital when he is appointed surgeon-general to the forces in Ireland. He remains as consulting surgeon to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital and the Dublin Lying-In Hospital. He is three times president of the Dublin College of Surgeons and he is knighted in 1839.

Crompton is always interested in zoological science and plays an active part in founding the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland and is many times its president. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Sir Philip Crampton dies at his residence, 14 Merrion Square, in Dublin on June 10, 1858.

The Crampton Memorial, at the junction of College St. with Pearse St. and D’Olier St., is erected from the design of sculptor John Kirk in 1862. It is of a curious design, consisting of a bust above a fountain and surmounted by a cascade of metal foliage. As it is slowly falling apart, it is removed in 1959. James Joyce references the monument in his novel Ulysses when Leopold Bloom passes the monument and thinks, “Sir Philip Crampton’s memorial fountain bust. Who was he?”


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Birth of Brendan Behan, Irish Republican, Poet & Writer

brendan-behanBrendan Francis Aidan Behan, Irish Republican, poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who writes in both English and Irish, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1923.

Behan is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers and poets of all time. He is also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Born in Dublin into a staunchly republican family, he becomes a member of the IRA’s youth organisation Fianna Éireann at the age of fourteen. However, there is also a strong emphasis on Irish history and culture in the home, which means he is steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from an early age. Behan eventually joins the IRA at sixteen, which leads to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in the United Kingdom. He is also imprisoned in Ireland. During this time, he takes it upon himself to study and he becomes a fluent speaker of the Irish language. Subsequently released from prison as part of a general amnesty given by the Fianna Fáil government in 1946, Behan moves between homes in Dublin, Kerry, and Connemara, and also resides in Paris for a time.

In 1954, Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, is produced in Dublin. It is well received, however, it is the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gains Behan a wider reputation. This is helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television. In 1958, Behan’s play in the Irish language, An Giall, has its debut at Dublin’s Damer Theatre. Later, The Hostage, Behan’s English-language adaptation of An Giall, meets with great success internationally. Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, is published the same year and becomes a worldwide best-seller.

He marries Beatrice Ffrench-Salkeld in 1955. By early March 1964, after developing diabetes, the end is in sight. Collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar, he is transferred to the Meath Hospital in central Dublin, where he dies at the age 41 on March 20, 1964. He is given an IRA guard of honour, which escorts his coffin. It is described by several newspapers as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.


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Birth of Union Leader Jim Larkin

james-larkinJames (Jim) Larkin, Irish trade union leader and socialist activist, is born to Irish parents in Liverpool, England, on January 21, 1876. He and his family later move to a small cottage in Burren, County Down. Growing up in poverty, he receives little formal education and begins working in a variety of jobs while still a child.

In 1905, Larkin is one of the few foremen to take part in a strike on the Liverpool docks. He is elected to the strike committee, and although he loses his foreman’s job as a result, his performance so impresses the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) that he is appointed a temporary organiser.

Larkin moves to Belfast in 1907 to organise the city’s dock workers for the NUDL. He succeeds in unionising the workforce, and as employers refuse to meet the wage demands, he calls the dockers out on strike in June. Carters and coal men soon join in, the latter settling their dispute after a month.

In 1908, Larkin moves south and organises workers in Dublin, Cork, and Waterford, with considerable success. His involvement, against union instructions, in a dispute in Dublin results in his expulsion from the NUDL. The union later prosecutes him for diverting union funds to give strike pay to Cork workers engaged in an unofficial dispute. After trial and conviction for embezzlement in 1910, he is sentenced to prison for a year. This is widely regarded as unjust, and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Aberdeen, pardons him after he has served three months in prison.

After his expulsion from the NUDL, Larkin founds the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) at the end of December 1908. The organisation exists today as the Services Industrial Professional & Technical Union (SIPTU). In early 1909, Larkin moves to Dublin, which becomes the main base of the ITGWU and the focus of all his future union activity in Ireland.

In June 1911, Larkin establishes a newspaper, The Irish Worker and People’s Advocate, as a pro-labour alternative to the capitalist-owned press. In 1912, in partnership with James Connolly, Larkin helps form the Irish Labour Party.

In early 1913, Larkin achieves some successes in industrial disputes in Dublin. Two major employers, Guinness and the Dublin United Tramway Company, are the main targets of Larkin’s organising ambitions. The chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company, industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, is determined not to allow the ITGWU to unionise his workforce. On August 15, he dismisses 40 workers he suspects of ITGWU membership, followed by another 300 over the next week. On August 26, 1913 the tramway workers officially go on strike.

The resulting industrial dispute is the most severe in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin engage in a sympathetic lockout of their workers when the latter refuses to sign the pledge, employing blackleg labour from Britain and from elsewhere in Ireland. Guinness, the largest employer in Dublin, refuses the employers’ call to lock out its workers but it sacks 15 workers who struck in sympathy.

For seven months the lockout affects tens of thousands of Dublin workers and employers, with Larkin portrayed as the villain by Murphy’s three main newspapers, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, and the Evening Herald, and by other bourgeois publications in Ireland. The lock-out eventually concludes in early 1914 when calls by James Connolly and Larkin for a sympathetic strike in Britain are rejected by the British Trades Union Congress (TUC). Larkin’s attacks on the TUC leadership for this stance also lead to the cessation of financial aid to the ITGWU.

Some months after the lockout ends, Larkin leaves for the United States. He intends to recuperate from the strain of the lockout and raise funds for the union. Once there he becomes a member of the Socialist Party of America, and is involved in the Industrial Workers of the World union (the Wobblies). He becomes an enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet Union and is expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1919 along with numerous other sympathisers of the Bolsheviks during the Red Scare of that year.

Upon his return to Ireland in April 1923, Larkin receives a hero’s welcome, and immediately sets about touring the country meeting trade union members and appealing for an end to the Irish Civil War. In September 1923, Larkin forms the Irish Worker League (IWL), which is soon afterwards recognised by the Communist International as the Irish section of the world communist movement.

James Larkin dies in his sleep on January 30, 1947 in the Meath Hospital. Fr. Aloysius Travers, OFM, who had administered last rites to James Connolly in 1916, also administers extreme unction to Larkin. His funeral mass is celebrated by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who had visited him in hospital before he died, and thousands line the streets of the city as the hearse passes through on the way to Glasnevin Cemetery.