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


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Birth of Ron Delany, Olympic Gold Medalist

ron-delanyRonald Michael Delany, athlete who specialises in middle distance running, is born in Arklow, County Wicklow on March 6, 1935. He wins a gold medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. He later earns a bronze medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships in Stockholm.

Delany moves with his family to Sandymount, Dublin 4 when he is six. He later goes to Sandymount High School and then to Catholic University School. He studies commerce and finance at Villanova University in the United States. While there he is coached by the well-known track coach James F. “Jumbo” Elliott.

Delany’s first achievement of note is reaching the final of the 800 metres at the 1954 European Athletics Championships in Bern. In 1956, he becomes the seventh runner to join the club of four-minute milers, but nonetheless struggles to make the Irish team for the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne.

Delany qualifies for the Olympic 1500 metres final, in which local runner John Landy is the big favourite. Delany keeps close to Landy until the final lap, when he starts a crushing final sprint, winning the race in a new Olympic record. He thereby becomes the first Irishman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics since Bob Tisdall in 1932. The Irish people learn of its new champion at breakfast time. He would be Ireland’s last Olympic champion for 36 years, until Michael Carruth wins the gold medal in boxing at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Delany wins the bronze medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships. He goes on to represent Ireland once again at the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome, this time in the 800 metres. He finishes sixth in his quarter-final heat.

Delany continues his running career in North America, winning four successive Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles in the mile, adding to his total of four Irish national titles, and three NCAA titles. He is next to unbeatable on indoor tracks over that period, which includes a 40-race winning streak. He breaks the World Indoor Mile Record on three occasions. In 1961 he wins the gold medal in the World University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Delany retires from competitive running in 1962, securing his status as Ireland’s most recognisable Olympian as well as one of the greatest sportsmen and international ambassadors in his country’s history.


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Birth of Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne

daniel-mannixDaniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, advocate of Irish independence, and one of the most influential and controversial public figures in 20th-century Australia, is born near Charleville, County Cork on March 4, 1864.

Mannix is the son of a tenant farmer, Timothy Mannix, and his wife Ellen (née Cagney). He is educated at Congregation of Christian Brothers schools and at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, County Kildare, where he is ordained priest in 1890. He teaches philosophy (1891) and theology (1894) at St. Patrick’s and from 1903 to 1912 he serves as president of the college. During his presidency, he welcomes both King Edward VII in 1905 and King George V in 1911 with loyal displays, which attract criticism by supporters of the Irish Home Rule movement.

Consecrated titular archbishop of Pharsalus in 1912, Mannix arrives in Melbourne in the following year as coadjutor archbishop, becoming archbishop of Melbourne in 1917.

Mannix’s forthright demands for state aid for the education of Roman Catholics in return for their taxes and his opposition to drafting soldiers for World War I make him the subject of controversy. A zealous supporter of Irish independence, he makes an official journey to Rome in 1920 via the United States, where his lengthy speech making attracts enthusiastic crowds. His campaign on behalf of the Irish, however, causes the British government to prevent him from landing in Ireland, which he finally visits in 1925.

After World War II Mannix seeks to stop Communist infiltration of the Australian trade unions. He plays a controversial part in the dissensions within the Australian Labor Party and backs the largely right-wing Catholic Democratic Labor Party, which breaks away. A promoter of Catholic Action (i.e., lay apostolic activity in the temporal society) and of the Catholic social movement, he is responsible for the establishment of 181 schools, including Newman College and St. Mary’s College at the University of Melbourne, and 108 parishes.

By the 1960s the distinct identity of the Irish community in Melbourne is fading, and Irish Catholics are increasingly outnumbered by Italians, Maltese and other postwar immigrant Catholic communities. Mannix, who turned 90 in 1954, remains active and in full authority, but he is no longer a central figure in the city’s politics. He dies suddenly on November 6, 1963, aged 99, while the Archdiocese of Melbourne is preparing to celebrate his 100th birthday. He is buried in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.


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Birth of Louis Brennan, Irish Australian Inventor

louis-brennanLouis Brennan, Irish Australian mechanical engineer and inventor, is born in Castlebar, County Mayo on January 28, 1852.

Brennan moves to Melbourne, Australia in 1861 with his parents. He starts his career as a watchmaker and a few years later is articled to Alexander Kennedy Smith, a renowned civil and mechanical engineer of the period. He serves as a sergeant in the Victorian Engineers under the command of Captain John James Clark. He invents the idea of a steerable torpedo in 1874, from observing that if a thread is pulled on a reel at an angle with suitable leverage, the reel will move away from the thread side. He spends some years working out his invention, and receives a grant of £700 from the Victorian government towards his expenses. He patents the Brennan torpedo in 1877. The idea is trialed at Camden Fort near Crosshaven, County Cork.

Brennan goes to England in 1880 and brings his invention before the War Office. Sir Andrew Clarke alerts the authorities to the possibilities of the torpedo if used in the defence of harbours and channels, and the patent is eventually bought for a sum believed to be more than £100,000 (£ 9,331,100 in 2019). In 1887 he is appointed superintendent of the Brennan torpedo factory, and is consulting engineer from 1896 to 1907.

Brennan does much work on a gyro monorail locomotive which is kept upright by a gyrostat. In 1903 he patents a gyroscopically-balanced monorail system that he designs for military use. He successfully demonstrates the system on November 10, 1909, at Gillingham, England, but fears that the gyroscopes might fail prevents adoption of the system for widespread use.

From 1916 to 1919 Brennan serves in the munitions inventions department. From 1919 to 1926 he is engaged by the air ministry in aircraft research work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and gives much time to the invention of a helicopter. The government spends a large sum of money on it, but in 1926 the air ministry gives up working on it, much to Brennan’s disappointment.

Brennan marries Anna Quinn on 10 September 10, 1892. The marriage results in a son and a daughter. He is created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1892, and is foundation member of the National Academy of Ireland in 1922.

In January 1932 Brennan is knocked down by a car at Montreux, Switzerland, and dies on January 17, 1932. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, in an unmarked plot numbered 2454 that is opposite the Chapel record office. On March 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveils a new gravestone for Brennan at St. Mary’s in a ceremony honouring the inventor’s life and career.

Gillingham Library retains the archive of his papers.


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The Execution of Edward “Ned” Kelly

ned-kellyEdward “Ned” Kelly, Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer, is hanged at Old Melbourne Jail in Australia on November 11, 1880. One of the last bushrangers, and by far the most famous, he is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police.

Kelly is born in the British colony of Victoria as the third of eight children to John “Red” Kelly (born 1820 in County Tipperary), and Ellen (née Quinn). The exact date of his birth is not known, but a number of lines of evidence, including a 1963 interview with family descendants Paddy and Charles Griffiths, a record from his mother, and a note from a school inspector, all suggest his birth was in December 1854. He is baptised by an Augustinian priest, Charles O’Hea, who also administers last rites to Kelly before his execution. His father, a transported convict, dies shortly after serving a six-month prison sentence, leaving Kelly, then aged 12, as the eldest male of the household. The Kellys are a poor selector family who see themselves as downtrodden by the Squattocracy and as victims of police persecution.

While a teenager, Kelly is arrested for associating with bushranger Harry Power, and serves two prison terms for a variety of offences, the longest stretch being from 1871 to 1874 on a conviction of receiving a stolen horse. He later joins the “Greta mob”, a group of bush larrikins known for stock theft. A violent confrontation with a policeman occurs at the Kelly family’s home in 1878, and he is indicted of attempted murder. Fleeing to the bush, he vows to avenge his mother, who is imprisoned for her role in the incident. After he, his brother Dan, and two associates, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, fatally shoot three policemen, the Government of Victoria proclaims them outlaws.

Kelly and his gang elude the police for two years, thanks in part to the support of an extensive network of sympathisers. The gang’s crime spree includes armed bank robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie, and the killing of Aaron Sherritt, a sympathiser turned police informer. In a manifesto letter, Kelly, denouncing the police, the Victorian government and the British Empire, sets down his own account of the events leading up to his outlawry. Demanding justice for his family and the rural poor, he threatens dire consequences against those who defy him.

In 1880, when Kelly’s attempt to derail and ambush a police train fails, he and his gang, dressed in armour fashioned from stolen plough mouldboards, engage in a final gun battle with the police at Glenrowan. Kelly, the only survivor, is severely wounded by police fire and is captured. Despite thousands of supporters attending rallies and signing a petition for his reprieve, he stands trial on October 19, 1880 in Melbourne before Sir Redmond Barry. The trial is adjourned to October 28, when Kelly is presented on the charge of the murder of the three policemen, the various bank robberies, the murder of Sherritt, resisting arrest at Glenrowan and a long list of minor charges. He is convicted of the willful murder of one of the officers and sentenced to death by hanging. After handing down the sentence, Barry concludes with the customary words, “May God have mercy on your soul,” to which Kelly replies, “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there where I go.”

On November 3, the Executive Council of Victoria decides that Kelly is to be hanged eight days later, November 11, at the Melbourne Gaol. In the week leading up to the execution, thousands turn out at street rallies across Melbourne demanding a reprieve for Kelly. On November 8, a petition for clemency with over 32,000 signatures is presented to the governor’s private secretary. The Executive Council announces soon after that the hanging would proceed as scheduled.

The day before his execution, Kelly has his photographic portrait taken as a keepsake for his family and is granted farewell interviews with relatives. The following morning, John Castieau, the Governor of the Gaol, informs him that the hour of execution has been fixed at 10:00 AM. His leg irons are removed and, after a short time, he is marched out. He is submissive on the way, and when passing the gaol’s flower beds, remarks, “What a nice little garden,” but says nothing further until reaching the Press room, where he remains until the arrival of chaplain Dean Donaghy. His last words are famously reported to have been, “Such is life.”

Historian Geoffrey Serle calls Kelly and his gang “the last expression of the lawless frontier in what was becoming a highly organised and educated society, the last protest of the mighty bush now tethered with iron rails to Melbourne and the world.” In the century after his death, Kelly becomes a cultural icon, inspiring countless works in the arts, and is the subject of more biographies than any other Australian. He continues to cause division in his homeland as some celebrate him as Australia’s equivalent of Robin Hood while others regard him as a murderous villain undeserving of his folk hero status. Journalist Martin Flanagan writes, “What makes Ned a legend is not that everyone sees him the same—it’s that everyone sees him. Like a bushfire on the horizon casting its red glow into the night.”


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Birth of Actress Sara Ellen Allgood

sara-allgoodSara Ellen Allgood, Irish American actress,is born to a Catholic mother and Protestant father in Dublin on October 31, 1879.

Allgood joins Inghinidhe na hÉireann (“Daughters of Ireland”), where she first begins to study drama under the direction of Maud Gonne and William Fay. She begins her acting career at the Abbey Theatre and is in the opening of the Irish National Theatre Society. Her first big role is in December 1904 at the opening of Lady Gregory‘s Spreading the News. By 1905 she is a full-time actress, touring England and North America.

In 1915 Allgood is cast as the lead in Peg o’ My Heart which tours Australia and New Zealand in 1916. She marries her leading man, Gerald Henson, in September 1916 in Melbourne, however, her happiness is short lived. She gives birth to a daughter named Mary in January 1918, who dies just a day later. Her husband dies of influenza during an outbreak in November 1918. After her return to Ireland she continues to perform at the Abbey Theatre. Her most memorable performance is in Seán O’Casey‘s Juno and the Paycock in 1923. She wins acclaim in London when she plays Bessie Burgess in O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars in 1926.

Allgood is frequently featured in early Alfred Hitchcock films, such as Blackmail (1929), Juno and the Paycock (1930), and Sabotage (1936). She also has a significant role in Storm in a Teacup (1937).

After many successful theatre tours in the United States, she settles in Hollywood in 1940 to pursue an acting career. She is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Beth Morgan in the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley. She also has memorable roles in the 1941 retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, It Happened in Flatbush (1942), Jane Eyre (1943), The Lodger (1944), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1946), The Fabulous Dorseys (1947), and the original Cheaper by the Dozen (1950).

Allgood becomes a United States citizen in 1945 and dies of a heart attack on September 13, 1950 in Woodland Hills, California.

(Note: Many accounts give October 31, 1879 as her date of birth. Her headstone also gives 1879 as her year of birth. However, her sister Margaret is born on August 1, 1879, meaning she could not have been born in that year. Sara Allgood may have been born on October 31, 1880 but her parents may have been late registering her.)


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The Burke and Wills Expedition

burke-and-wills-statueThe Burke and Wills expedition, led by Robert O’Hara Burke, an Irish soldier and police officer, leaves Melbourne on August 20, 1860, ultimately becoming the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north, finding a route across the continent from the settled areas of Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Burke is born in St. Clerens, County Galway on May 6, 1821. He migrates to Australia in 1853 arriving in Hobart, Tasmania on February 12, 1853 and promptly sailing for Melbourne.

After the South Australian explorer John McDouall Stuart reaches the centre of Australia, the Parliament of South Australia offers a reward of £2,000 for the promotion of an expedition to cross the continent from south to north, generally following Stuart’s route.

In June 1860, Burke is appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition with William John Wills, his third-in-command, as surveyor and astronomical observer.

The expedition leaves Melbourne on Monday, August 20, 1860 with a total of 19 men, 27 camels and 23 horses. They reach Menindee on September 23, 1860 where several people resign, including the second-in-command, George James Landells, and the medical officer, Dr. Hermann Beckler.

Cooper Creek, 400 miles further on, is reached on November 11, 1860 by the advance group, the remainder being intended to catch up. After a break, Burke decides to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria, leaving on December 16, 1860. William Brahe is left in charge of the remaining party. The small team of Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray reach the mangroves on the estuary of the Flinders River, near where the town of Normanton now stands, on February 9, 1861. Flooding rains and swamps prevent them from seeing the open ocean.

Already weakened by starvation and exposure, progress on the return journey is slow and hampered by the tropical monsoon downpours of the wet season. Gray dies four days before they reach the rendezvous at Cooper Creek. The other three rest for a day when they bury him. They eventually reach the rendezvous point on April 21, 1861, nine hours after the rest of the party had given up waiting and left, leaving a note and some food, as they had not been relieved by the party supposed to be returning from Menindee.

They attempt to reach Mount Hopeless, the furthest outpost of pastoral settlement in South Australia, which is closer than Menindee, but fail and return to Cooper Creek. While waiting for rescue Wills dies of exhaustion and starvation. Soon after, Burke also dies, at a place now called Burke’s Waterhole on Cooper Creek in South Australia. The exact date of Burke’s death is uncertain, but has generally been accepted to be June 28, 1861.

King survives with the help of Aborigines until he is rescued in September by Alfred William Howitt. Howitt buries Burke and Wills before returning to Melbourne. In 1862 Howitt returns to Cooper Creek and disinters the bodies of Burke and Wills, taking them first to Adelaide and then by steamer to Melbourne where they are laid in state for two weeks. On January 23, 1863 Burke and Wills receive a state funeral and are buried in Melbourne General Cemetery.

(Pictured: Burke and Wills Statue on the corner of Collins and Swanston Street, Melbourne)


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Death of Samuel McCaughey, Australian Philanthropist

samuel-mccaugheySir Samuel McCaughey, Irish-born pastoralist, politician and philanthropist in Australia, dies in Yanco, New South Wales on July 25, 1919.

McCaughey is born on July 1, 1835 at Tullynewey, near Ballymena, County Antrim, the son of Francis McCaughey, farmer and merchant, and his wife Eliza, née Wilson.

McCaughey comes to Australia with an uncle, Charles Wilson, a brother of Sir Samuel Wilson, and lands at Melbourne in April 1856. He immediately goes to the country and begins working as a jackaroo. Within three months he is appointed an overseer and two years later becomes manager of Kewell station while his uncle is on a visit to England.

In 1860, after his uncle’s return, McCaughey acquires an interest in Coonong station near Urana with two partners. His brother John who comes out later becomes a partner in other stations.

During the early days of Coonong station McCaughey suffers greatly from drought conditions, but overcomes these by sinking wells for artesian water and constructing large tanks, making him a pioneer of water conservation in Australia.

In 1871 McCaughey is away from Australia for two years on holiday, and on his return does much experimenting in sheep farming. At first he seeks the strains that can produce the best wool in the Riverina district. Afterwards, when the mutton trade develops, he considers the question from that angle.

In 1880 Sir Samuel Wilson goes to England and McCaughey purchases two of his stations, Toorale and Dunlop Stations, during his absence. He then owns about 3,000,000 acres. In 1886 he again visits the old world and imports a considerable number of Vermont sheep from the United States and also introduces fresh strains from Tasmania. He ultimately owns several million sheep, earning the nickname of “The Sheep King.”

In 1900 McCaughey purchases North Yanco and, at great cost, constructs about 200 miles of channels and irrigates 40,000 acres. The success of this scheme is believed to have encouraged the New South Wales government to proceed with the dam at Burrinjuck.

McCaughey becomes a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1899, and in 1905 he is made a Knight Bachelor. He suffers from nephritis and dies from heart failure at Yanco on July 25, 1919 and is buried in the grounds of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Narrandera. He never marries.