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


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Birth of Peter O’Toole, Stage & Film Actor

peter-o-toolePeter Seamus O’Toole, British stage and film actor of Irish descent, is born on August 2, 1932, in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Some sources give his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway. Records from the General Registry Office in Leeds confirm that O’Toole is born in the north England town in 1932.

O’Toole grows up in Leeds and is educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He is a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post in his teens and makes his amateur stage debut at Leeds Civic Theatre. After serving two years in the Royal Navy, he acts with the Bristol Old Vic Company from 1955 to 1958 and makes his London debut as Peter Shirley in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara (1956). He appears with the Shakespeare Memorial Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in 1960 in highly praised performances as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and he plays the lead in Hamlet for the inaugural production of the Royal National Theatre in London in 1963. A prominent film star by this point in his career, he continues to appear on stages throughout the world to great acclaim. He is named associate director of the Old Vic in 1980.

O’Toole makes his motion picture debut in Kidnapped in 1960 and two years later becomes an international star for his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962). In 1964 he plays Henry II of England in Becket, and he has the title role in Lord Jim (1965). He appears as Henry II again in The Lion in Winter (1968), a film notable for the witty verbal sparring matches between O’Toole and costar Katharine Hepburn. The Ruling Class (1972), a controversial black comedy that has become a cult classic, casts O’Toole as a schizophrenic English earl with a messiah complex.

Personal problems contribute to a decline in his popularity during the 1970s, but he makes a strong comeback in the early 1980s with three well-received efforts. He portrays a duplicitous and domineering movie director in The Stunt Man (1980), and his performance as the Roman commander Lucius Flavius Silva in the acclaimed television miniseries Masada (1981) is hailed as one of the finest of his career. His most popular vehicle during this period is My Favorite Year (1982), an affectionate satire on the early days of television, in which he plays Alan Swann, a faded Errol Flynn-type swashbuckling screen star with a penchant for tippling and troublemaking.

O’Toole subsequently maintains his status with fine performances in such films as the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987), the cult favourite Wings of Fame (1989), and Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997), in which he portrays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Notable screen roles in the 21st century included King Priam in the historical epic Troy (2004), an aging romantic in Venus (2006), the voice of a haughty food critic in the animated Ratatouille (2007), and a priest in the historical drama For Greater Glory (2012). In addition, in 2008 he portrays Pope Paul III in the TV series The Tudors.

In 1992 O’Toole publishes a lively memoir, Loitering with Intent: The Child. A second volume, Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice, appears in 1996. He is nominated for an Academy Award eight times — for Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, and Venus — but never wins. In 2003 he is awarded an honorary Oscar. He receives an Emmy Award for his performance as Bishop Pierre Cauchon in the television miniseries Joan of Arc (1999).

O’Toole dies on December 14, 2013 at Wellington Hospital in St. John’s Wood, London, at the age of 81. His funeral is held at Golders Green Crematorium in London on December 21, 2013, where his body is cremated in a wicker coffin. His ashes are planned to be taken to Connemara, Ireland. They are being kept at the residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, by President Michael D. Higgins, an old friend of O’Toole. His family has stated their intention to fulfill his wishes and take his ashes to the west of Ireland.

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Resignation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny

varadkar-kennyEnda Kenny formally resigns as Taoiseach on June 13, 2017 after six years as head of Government of Ireland. He is the longest-serving Fine Gael Taoiseach and the first in his party to serve two consecutive terms in the highest political office.

An emotional Kenny makes his final address to Dáil Éireann as Taoiseach, saying he is the first to acknowledge that he had not gotten everything right. “But I can honestly say my motivation was always what I believed was in the best interests of the Irish people,” he added. “I really do believe politics is work worth doing, a noble profession.”

Flanked by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, his successor Leo Varadkar, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Simon Harris, Kenny informs the Dáil that he will be going later to Áras an Uachtaráin to submit his resignation to President Michael D. Higgins. He formally submits his letter that evening.

Following his speech in the Dáil, Kenny sits down, visibly emotional, to applause from all sides of the House.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin describes Kenny as “an Irish patriot and an Irish democrat.” Throughout his time in elected office and in government he had been a proud representative of his community, political tradition and country. He adds that “the mischievous enjoyment he has taken in this has been a genuine joy to behold”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says his party and Fine Gael do not agree on many issues but “I always found Enda to be friendly on a personal level. Probably the best leader Fine Gael ever had.” Adams adds, “Let me say I will miss you. I will miss your entertaining tales of meetings you have had and meetings you have not had and recollections of people you have met along the way, like the man with the two pints in one hand.”

Adams says there have been successes including the success of the same-sex marriage referendum. But he also says there have been abject failures, including the Taoiseach’s consistent failure to recognise the State of Palestine, the squandering of the biggest mandate in the history of the State as the Fine Gael-Labour Government reneged on election promises, the clear lack of affinity with Northern Ireland and a clear lack of consistent strategic engagement with the process of change that is under way on the island.

Kenny now becomes a party backbencher until the next general election when he is expected to retire as a Teachta Dála (TD). He is also father of the House as the longest serving TD with 42 years in the Dáil. He is first elected in 1975 in a by-election following the death of his father Henry and faces another 12 elections in his Dáil tenure.

Kenny serves three years as a cabinet minister, serving as Minister for Tourism and Trade during the 1994 to 1997 Rainbow Coalition. He also serves for a year as Minister of State for Youth Affairs from February 1986 to March 1987. He takes over from Michael Noonan as party leader in 2002 after a disastrous general election for the party and in 2007 the party’s numbers in the Dáil rise from 32 to 51 TDs. In the 2011 general election at the height of the economic recession, Fine Gael secures 76 seats, the most in the party’s history, under his leadership.

(From: “Enda Kenny steps down as Taoiseach” by Michael O’Regan and Marie O’Halloran, The Irish Times, June 13, 2017)


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Birth of Albert Reynolds, Taoiseach & Fianna Fáil Leader

albert-reynoldsAlbert Reynolds, politician and businessman, is born in Rooskey, County Roscommon on November 3, 1932. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 2002, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1979 to 1981, Minister for Transport from 1980 to 1981, Minister for Industry and Energy from March 1982 to December 1982, Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1987 to 1988, Minister for Finance from 1988 to 1991, Leader of Fianna Fáil from 1992 to 1994 and as Taoiseach from 1992 to 1994.

Reynolds is educated at Summerhill College in County Sligo and works for a state transport company before succeeding at a variety of entrepreneurial ventures, including promoting dances and owning ballrooms, a pet-food factory, and newspapers. In 1974 he is elected to the Longford County Council as a member of Fianna Fáil. He enters Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1977 as a member representing the Longford-Westmeath parliamentary constituency and becomes Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey (1979–81). He is subsequently Minister of Industry and Commerce (1987–88) and Minister for Finance (1988–91) in Haughey’s third and fourth governments. He breaks with Haughey in December 1991 and succeeds him as leader of Fianna Fáil and as Taoiseach in February 1992.

The Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats coalition that Reynolds inherits breaks up in November 1992 but, after the general election later that month, he surprises many observers by forming a new coalition government with the Labour Party in January 1993. He plays a significant part in bringing about a ceasefire between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and unionist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland in 1994, but he is less effective in maintaining his governing coalition. When this government founders in November 1994, he resigns as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil, though he remains acting prime minister until a new government is formed the following month. He unsuccessfully seeks his party’s nomination as a candidate for the presidency of Ireland in 1997. He retires from public life in 2002.

In December 2013, it is revealed by his son that Reynolds is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Albert Reynolds dies on August 21, 2014. The last politician to visit him is John Major. His funeral is held at Church of the Sacred Heart, in Donnybrook on August 25, 2014. Attendees include President Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former British Prime Minister John Major, former Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader and Nobel Prize winner John Hume, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke. An unexpected visitor from overseas is the frail but vigorous Jean Kennedy Smith, former United States Ambassador to Ireland, who is the last surviving sibling of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Reynolds is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery with full military honours.


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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Arrives in Ireland

joe-biden-michael-higginsVice President of the United States Joe Biden arrives in Ireland on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 for a six-day visit. He arrives with his brother and sister, his daughter and five grandchildren and is welcomed to Ireland by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan.

Biden then travels to Government Buildings where he is formally welcomed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Kenny says he hopes Biden enjoyed his visit and Biden says that he himself has visited Ireland several times privately, but never as vice president. He adds that he had promised his late son Beau that he would make a family trip to Ireland, “Unfortunately Beau didn’t make it, but we decided that we would bring the whole family.”

Biden, an Irish American, speaks of his great-grandfather who emigrated from Ireland, and he also speaks of the pride his family feels in their Irish heritage.

Kenny presents Biden with a hurley and a sliotar, to which the Vice President responds, “I have witnessed one game and I have one regret, that they don’t have this in the United States. I played American football and American baseball in high school and college, but this would have been … this is a dangerous game.”

Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Kenny in the evening and meets with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, the following day at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin‘s Phoenix Park. As he signs the visitors’ book, he paraphrases another famous Irish American, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who had visited the Republic of Ireland 53 years earlier. His written entry makes reference to a speech made to Dáil Éireann in June 1963, when Kennedy said “our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history.”

During his visit Biden visits County Mayo and County Louth, where his ancestors originated, in addition to several engagements in Dublin and a stop at Newgrange. He also arranges to fit in a round of golf with Kenny.

Biden speaks at an event at Trinity College, Dublin on the morning of Friday, June 24 and delivers a keynote address to an American Ireland Fund event in Dublin Castle in the evening. He addresses the Irish American experience, the shared heritage of the two nations, and the values of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.

On Saturday, June 25, Biden visits various locations in County Louth including the Kilwirra Cemetery and Newgrange in County Meath.

Biden returns to the United States following a lunch with Kenny on Sunday, June 26.

(Pictured: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden signing the visitor’s book as Irish President Michael D. Higgins look on at his official residence, Áras an Uachtaráin)


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”


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Death of Sportswriter Con Houlihan

Con Houlihan, Irish sportswriter, dies in Dublin on August 4, 2012. Despite only progressing to national journalism at the age of 46, he becomes “the greatest and the best-loved Irish sports journalist of all.”

Houlihan is born on December 6, 1925, in Castleisland, County Kerry. Over a lengthy career, Houlihan covers many Irish and international sporting events, from Gaelic football and hurling finals, to soccer and rugby World Cups, the Olympic Games and numberless race meetings inside and outside Ireland.

Houlihan is a journalist with the Irish Press group writing for The Irish Press, Evening Press and sometimes The Sunday Press, until the group’s demise in 1995. He writes the “Tributaries” column and Evening Press back sports page “Con Houlihan” column.

Houlihan dies on the morning of August 4, 2012 in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin. Often considered one of Ireland’s finest writers, he leaves behind a legacy of immense sports journalism that spans over 60 years. A minute’s silence is observed in his memory ahead of Kerry GAA‘s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final defeat to Donegal GAA at Croke Park the following day. His last column, in which he wishes Irish Olympic boxer Katie Taylor well, is published the day after his death. His funeral takes place on August 8, 2012.

Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, leads the tributes to Houlihan, describing him as a “most original writer, with a unique style based on his extensive knowledge of literature, politics, life and sport.” He adds, “He had that special quality and ability to identify with the passion, pain and celebration of Irish community life.”

A bronze bust of Houlihan is unveiled in his hometown of Castleisland in 2004. In 2011, another sculpture is erected outside The Palace bar in Dublin.


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Execution of Thomas Kent

thomas-kentIrish nationalist Thomas Kent is executed at Cork Detention Barracks on May 9, 1916. Kent’s story is one of the stranger episodes that happens after the rebellion in Dublin has been quelled. Unlike the Dublin rebels, Kent does not go out to fight. Rather the British come to him looking for trouble.

Kent is part of a prominent nationalist family who lives at Bawnard House, Castlelyons, County Cork. After spending some time in Boston he returns to Ireland because of poor health. He is active in the Land League, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. With the launch of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, he is prominent with another legendary Cork man, Terence MacSwiney, in organizing and training recruits.

The Kent family is prepared to take part in the Easter Rising but when the mobilisation order is countermanded by Eoin MacNeill, commander of the Irish Volunteers, on April 22, they stay at home. The rising nevertheless goes ahead in Dublin on Easter Monday. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is dispatched to arrest well-known sympathizers throughout the country including, but not limited to, known members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Volunteers.

When the Kent residence is raided at 3:45 AM on May 2, the RIC is met with resistance from Thomas and his brothers Richard, David, and William. A gunfight lasts for four hours, during which RIC officer Head Constable William Rowe is killed and David Kent is seriously wounded. Eventually the Kents are forced to surrender, although Richard makes a last minute dash for freedom and is fatally wounded.

Thomas and William are tried by court martial on May 4 on a charge of “armed rebellion.” William, who is not political, is found innocent, but Thomas is found guilty in the death of Constable Rowe and is sentenced to death. Before being led out for his execution, Kent says, “I have done my duty as a soldier of Ireland and in a few moments I hope to see the face of God.” He is executed by firing squad in Cork in the early morning hours of May 9. David Kent is brought to Dublin where he is charged with the same offence, found guilty, and sentenced to death, but the sentence is commuted and he is sentenced to five years penal servitude.

Apart from the singular case of Roger Casement, Thomas Kent is the only person outside of Dublin to be executed for his role in the events surrounding Easter Week. He is buried on the grounds of Cork Prison, formerly the Military Detention Barracks at the rear of Collins Barracks, Cork. The former army married quarters at the rear of Collins Barracks are named in his honour.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offers a state funeral to the Kent family early in 2015 which they accept. Kent’s remains are exhumed from Cork prison in June 2015 after being buried for 99 years. The state funeral is held on September 18, 2015 at St. Nicholas’ Church in Castlelyons. Kent lay in state at Collins Barracks in Cork the day before. The requiem mass is attended by President Michael D. Higgins, with Enda Kenny delivering the graveside oration.