seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of Patrick Hillery, Sixth President of Ireland

Patrick John Hillery, Irish politician and the sixth President of Ireland, dies in Glasnevin, Dublin, at the age of 84 on April 12, 2008, following a short illness. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He is educated locally at Milltown Malbay National school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 Irish general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”


Leave a comment

Death of Joseph McGrath, Politician & Businessman

Joseph McGrath, Irish politician and businessman, dies in Ballsbridge, Dublin, on March 26, 1966. He is a Sinn Féin and later a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála (TD) for various constituencies: Dublin St James’s (1918–1921), Dublin North-West (1921–1923) and Mayo North (1923–1924), and develops widespread business interests.

McGrath is born in Dublin on August 12, 1888. By 1916 he is working with his brother George at Craig Gardiner & Co., a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin. He works with Michael Collins, a part-time fellow clerk and the two strike up a friendship. In his spare time he works as secretary for the Volunteer Dependents’ Fund.

McGrath soon joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He fights in Marrowbone Lane in the 1916 Easter Rising. He is arrested after the rising, and jailed in Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons in England. In the 1918 Irish general election, he is elected as Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin St. James’s constituency, later sitting in the First Dáil. He is also a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and successfully organises many bank robberies during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), where a small percentage of the proceeds is retained as a reward by him and his fellow-soldiers. During this time he is interred briefly at Abercorn Barracks but escapes by dressing in army uniform and walking out of the gate with soldiers going on leave. He is eventually recaptured and spends time in jail in Belfast.

In October 1921 McGrath travels with the Irish Treaty delegation to London as one of Michael Collins’ personal staff. When the Provisional Government of Ireland is set up in January 1922, he is appointed Minister for Labour. In the Irish Civil War of 1922–1923, he takes the pro-Treaty side and is made Director of Intelligence, replacing Liam Tobin. In a strongly worded letter, written in red ink, he warns Collins not to take his last, ill-fated trip to County Cork.

McGrath is later put in charge of the police Intelligence service of the new Irish Free State, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). It is modelled on the London Metropolitan Police department of the same name, but is accused of the torture and killing of a number of republican (anti-Treaty) prisoners during the civil war. It is disbanded at the war’s end with the official reason given that it is unnecessary for a police force in peacetime. He goes on to serve as Minister for Labour in the Second Dáil and the Provisional Government of Ireland. He also serves in the 1st and 2nd Executive Councils holding the Industry and Commerce portfolio.

In September 1922 McGrath uses strikebreakers to oppose a strike by Trade Unionists in the Post Office service, despite having threatened to resign in the previous March of the same year when the government threatened to use British strikebreakers.

In December 1922 McGrath is a reluctant supporter of the government’s decision to execute four high profile IRA prisoners: Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor, and Joe McKelvey.

McGrath resigns from office in April 1924 because of dissatisfaction with the government’s attitude to the Army Mutiny officers and as he says himself, “government by a clique and by the officialdom of the old regime.” By this he means that former IRA fighters are being overlooked and that the Republican goals on all Ireland has been sidelined. He and eight other TDs, who had resigned from Cumann na nGaedheal, resign their seats in the Dáil and form a new political party, the National Party. However, the new party does not contest the subsequent by-elections for their old seats. Instead, Cumann na nGaedheal wins seven of the seats and Sinn Féin wins the other two.

In 1927, McGrath takes a libel case against the publishers of The Real Ireland by poet Cyril Bretherton, a book that claims he is responsible for the abduction and murder of Noel Lemass, the brother of Seán Lemass, in June 1923 during the civil war, as well as a subsequent coverup. He wins the court case. During the 1930s, he and Seán Lemass reconcile and regularly play poker together.

Following his political career, McGrath goes on to become involved in the building trade. In 1925 he becomes labour adviser to Siemens-Schuckert, German contractors for the Shannon hydroelectric scheme near Limerick. He founds the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930, and the success of its sweepstakes makes him an extremely wealthy man. He has other extensive and successful business interests always investing in Ireland and becomes Ireland’s best-known racehorse owner and breeder, winning The Derby with Arctic Prince in 1951.

McGrath dies at his home, Cabinteely House, in Ballsbridge, Dublin on March 26, 1966. Cabinteely House is donated to the state in 1986 and the land is developed as a public park. His son, Patrick W. McGrath, inherits many of his father’s business interests, and also serves as Fine Gael Senator from 1973 to 1977.

(Pictured: Screenshot of a film of Irish politician Joseph McGrath shot in 1922)


Leave a comment

Birth of Brian Cowen, Former Taoiseach & Leader of Fianna Fáil

Brian Cowen, Irish former politician who is Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil from 2008 to 2011, is born in Tullamore, County Offaly, on January 10, 1960.

Cowen is exposed to politics at a young age. His grandfather was a councillor in the Fianna Fáil party, and his father, Bernard Cowen, held a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). He is an exemplary debater in school and often speaks at his father’s election rallies. He studies at University College Dublin and at the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, where he is trained as a solicitor. His father’s death in 1984 prompts a by-election for the seat he had held in the Dáil. At the age of 24, he captures the seat, becoming one of the youngest members ever to sit in the Dáil.

Cowen’s political mentor is Albert Reynolds, who becomes Taoiseach in 1992 when Fianna Fáil is in a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. He is an outspoken critic of the coalition, famously stating about the Progressive Democrats, “When in doubt, leave them out!” He serves as Minister for Labour (1992–93), and in 1993, after the breakup of the Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats government, he helps to negotiate the short-lived coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. He then serves as Minister for Transport, Energy, and Communications (1993–94), leaving office after Fianna Fáil is forced into opposition by the formation of a Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left coalition.

During Fianna Fáil’s years out of government, Cowen serves successively as opposition Spokesperson for Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (1994–97) and Spokesperson for Health (1997). Following elections in 1997, Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern forms a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats, and the party once again returns to power. Cowen serves as Minister for Health and Children (1997–2000), Minister for Foreign Affairs (2000–04), and Minister for Finance (2004–08). In June 2007 he was appointed Tánaiste.

Cowen is known for his sharp tongue and sometimes rough-hewn manner, but he is also recognized for his fierce intelligence, wit, and jovial demeanour. A combative politician and loyal party member, he is for many years seen as an obvious successor to Ahern. In April 2008, amid an investigation into possible past financial misconduct, Ahern announces that he will resign as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil the following month. Cowen, who had remained supportive of Ahern throughout, is elected Leader of Fianna Fáil in April 2008. He becomes Taoiseach the following month and is faced with leading the country amid the global financial crisis that creates Ireland’s worst economy since the 1930s.

Cowen’s government oversees the bailout of Ireland’s banking system, which had been thrown into crisis by the collapse of the housing market, but the rescue comes at the cost of a skyrocketing deficit. As the country’s economic difficulties deepen, he seeks a cure that he hopes would obviate the need of foreign intervention, proposing an increase in income taxes and cuts in services. In November 2010, however, as concern for Ireland’s financial stability grows among its eurozone partners, he agrees to accept a bailout of more than $100 million from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. There is concern in Ireland that one condition for foreign aid might be an increase in Ireland’s comparatively low corporate taxes. The Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s junior partner in the governing coalition, responds to the situation by calling for early elections.

In mid-January 2011 Cowen’s leadership of Fianna Fáil is challenged by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, partly in response to rumours that had swirled of a golf course meeting that had taken place between the Taoiseach and the former head of the Anglo Irish Bank before the government’s bailout of the Irish banking industry. He survives a leadership vote, but about one-third of the party’s parliamentary bloc votes against him. In a rapid succession of events that occur over the course of a few days, an unsuccessful reshuffle of the cabinet follows the resignation of six cabinet ministers, after which Cowen calls for an election to be held on March 11 and then announces that he will step down as party leader but continue as caretaker Taoiseach until the election. The Green Party then withdraws from the ruling coalition, forcing an even earlier election. Waiting until the parliament passes a finance bill that is necessary to meet the conditions of an International Monetary Fund–European Union loan but which imposes austerity measures that had proved very unpopular with much of the Irish public, he officially calls the election for February 25. Martin takes over as the Leader of Fianna Fáil, which suffers a crushing defeat in the election at the hands of Fine Gael.

In May 2014, Cowen becomes part of the board of Topaz Energy. He is appointed to the board of Beacon Hospital in February 2015. In July 2017, he is conferred with an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland. During his 50-minute acceptance speech he criticises the EU for its behaviour towards Ireland during the financial crisis and expresses regret that so many jobs were lost during the recession. Following the conferring ceremony, the NUI faces considerable public criticism for deciding to make the award to Cowen. Former (and founding) President of the University of Limerick, Edward M. Walsh, announces that he will hand back his own honorary doctorate in protest, and does so on November 14, 2018.

On July 5, 2019, Cowen is admitted to Beacon Hospital after suffering a major brain hemorrhage. He is then transferred to St. Vincent’s University Hospital where he spends five months before transferring to a physical rehabilitation facility. As of late 2020, while he is still in hospital following a stroke the previous year, he has been making steady progress.


Leave a comment

Death of Eileen Desmond, Labour Party Politician

eileen-desmondEileen Christine Desmond (née Harrington), Irish Labour Party politician who serves as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare from 1981 to 1982, dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. She serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1969, 1973 to 1981 and 1981 to 1987. She serves as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Munster constituency from 1979 to 1984. She is a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1969 to 1973.

Desmond is born in Kinsale, County Cork on December 29, 1932. She is educated locally at the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale, where she is one of only two girls in her class to sit the Leaving Certificate examination. Before entering politics she works as a civil servant with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She marries Dan Desmond in 1958.

Desmond is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election on March 10, 1965, due to the death of her husband who had been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 1948. Her victory in the Cork Mid constituency leads Taoiseach Seán Lemass to dissolve the 17th Dáil and call a general election. She is elected for the second time in a year, but loses her seat at the 1969 general election. However she is then elected to the 12th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, where she serves until her re-election to the 20th Dáil at the 1973 general election.

Desmond is elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European Parliament election for the Munster constituency. However her time in Europe is short-lived, as she returns to domestic politics when she is offered a position as Minister and the chance to impact upon national legislation. At the 1981 general election she switches her constituency to Cork South-Central. A Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition comes to power and she is appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare.

Desmond’s cabinet appointment is historic, as she is only the second woman to be a member of cabinet since the foundation of the state in 1922, and the first in any Fine Gael or Labour Party cabinet. Countess Markievicz had held the cabinet post of Minister for Labour in the revolutionary First Dáil in 1919, but only one woman had held cabinet office after the foundation of the state, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Fianna Fáil who was appointed as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Desmond retires from full-time politics at the 1987 general election for health reasons. She dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. Her funeral Mass takes place at Our Lady and St. John’s Church, Carrigaline with burial following in Crosshaven Cemetery.


Leave a comment

1918 Irish General Election

irish-general-election-1918Sinn Féin, pledged to an Irish Republic, wins 73 of 105 Irish Member of Parliament (MP) seats in the 1918 Irish general election held on December 14, 1918. Winners include Constance Markievicz who becomes the first woman elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In 1919 she is appointed Minister for Labour, the first female minister in a democratic government cabinet.

The Irish general election is that part of the 1918 United Kingdom general election which takes place in Ireland. The election is now seen as a key moment in modern Irish history because it sees the overwhelming defeat of the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which had dominated the Irish political landscape since the 1880s, and a landslide victory for the radical Sinn Féin party. The party had never stood in a general election, but had won six seats in by-elections in 1917–1918. Sinn Féin vows in its manifesto to establish an independent Irish Republic. In Ulster, however, the Unionist Party is the most successful party.

The election is held in the aftermath of World War I, the Easter Rising and the Conscription Crisis. It is the first general election to be held after the Representation of the People Act 1918. It is thus the first election in which women over the age of 30, and all men over the age of 21, can vote. Previously, all women and most working-class men had been excluded from voting.

In the aftermath of the elections, Sinn Féin’s elected members refuse to attend the British Parliament in Westminster. Instead they form a parliament in Dublin, the First Dáil Éireann, which declares Irish independence as a republic. The Irish War of Independence is conducted under this revolutionary government which seeks international recognition, and sets about the process of state-building.


Leave a comment

Birth of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Fianna Fáil Politician

maire-geoghegan-quinnMáire Geoghegan-Quinn, former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Carna, County Galway on September 5, 1950. She served as a European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science from 2010 to 2014 and as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Galway West constituency from 1975 to 1997.

Geoghegan is educated at Coláiste Muire, Toormakeady, in County Mayo and at Carysfort College in Blackrock, from where she qualifies as a teacher. She is married to John Quinn, with whom she has two children. Her novel The Green Diamond, about four young women sharing a house in Dublin in the 1960s, is published in 1996.

Her father, Johnny Geoghegan, is a Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West from 1954 until his death in 1975. His daughter successfully contests the subsequent by-election. From 1977 to 1979 she works as Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy. She serves as a member of Galway City Council from 1985 to 1991.

Geoghegan-Quinn supports Charles Haughey in the 1979 Fianna Fáil leadership election and is subsequently appointed to the cabinet post of Minister for the Gaeltacht. Thus, she becomes the first woman to hold an Irish cabinet post since 1922 (after Constance Markievicz had been appointed Minister for Labour in 1919 during the First Dáil) and the first woman to hold such a post in the history of the Irish state.

In 1982, Geoghegan-Quinn is appointed Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills. Her tenure is short because the 23rd Dáil lasts only 279 days, and a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition is elected at the November 1982 general election.

When Fianna Fáil returns to power after the 1987 general election, Geoghegan-Quinn becomes Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach. She expects a senior government position, but is disappointed. She resigns in 1991, in opposition to Charles Haughey’s leadership of the party. The following year Albert Reynolds, whom she backs for the leadership, becomes Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. For her loyalty to Reynolds, she is appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. She becomes Minister for Justice and Equality in 1993, in which post she introduces substantial law reform legislation, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality. She is also briefly acting Minister for Equality and Law Reform in late 1994, following the resignation of Labour minister Mervyn Taylor from Reynolds’ coalition government.

When Reynolds resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil in November 1994, Geoghegan-Quinn is seen as his preferred successor. In the resulting leadership election she stands against Bertie Ahern. A win would make her the first female Taoiseach. On the day of the vote, however, she withdraws from the contest “in the interests of party unity.” It is reported that she has the support of only 15 members of the 66-strong parliamentary party.

At the 1997 general election Geoghegan-Quinn retires from politics completely, citing privacy issues, after details about her 17-year-old son’s expulsion from school appeared in the newspapers. Other reports suggest that she sees her prospects for promotion under Ahern as poor, and a weak showing in constituency opinion polls indicate her seat could be in danger. She becomes a non-executive director of Aer Lingus, a member of the board of the Declan Ganley-owned Ganley Group, and writes a column for The Irish Times.

Geoghegan-Quinn is appointed to the European Court of Auditors in 1999, replacing former Labour minister Barry Desmond. She is appointed for a second term at the Court of Auditors in March 2006, and resigns on February 9, 2010. She is nominated by Taoiseach Brian Cowen to become Ireland’s European Commissioner in November 2009, and is subsequently allocated the Research, Innovation and Science portfolio.

In April 2010, after numerous calls are made over several days for Geoghegan-Quinn to surrender her pensions as an Irish former politician, which are worth over €104,000, while she remains in a paid public office, she does so.

In July 2015, it is announced that Geoghegan-Quinn will chair an independent panel to examine issues of gender equality among Irish higher education staff.


Leave a comment

Birth of Eileen Christine Desmond, Labour Party Politician

eileen-desmondEileen Christine Desmond (née Harrington), Irish Labour Party politician who serves as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare from 1981 to 1982, is born in Kinsale, County Cork on December 29, 1932. She serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1969, 1973 to 1981 and 1981 to 1987. She serves as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Munster constituency from 1979 to 1984. She is a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1969 to 1973.

Harrington is educated locally at the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale, where she is one of only two girls in her class to sit the Leaving Certificate examination. Before entering politics she works as a civil servant with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She marries Dan Desmond in 1958.

Desmond is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election on March 10, 1965, due to the death of her husband who had been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 1948. Her victory in the Cork Mid constituency leads Taoiseach Seán Lemass to dissolve the 17th Dáil and call a general election. She is elected for the second time in a year, but loses her seat at the 1969 general election. However she is then elected to the 12th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, where she serves until her re-election to the 20th Dáil at the 1973 general election.

Desmond is elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European Parliament election for the Munster constituency. However her time in Europe is short-lived, as she returns to domestic politics when she is offered a position as Minister and the chance to impact upon national legislation. At the 1981 general election she switches her constituency to Cork South-Central. A Fine GaelLabour Party coalition comes to power and she is appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare.

Desmond’s cabinet appointment is historic, as she is only the second woman to be a member of cabinet since the foundation of the state in 1922, and the first in any Fine Gael or Labour Party cabinet. Countess Markievicz had held the cabinet post of Minister for Labour in the revolutionary First Dáil in 1919, but only one woman had held cabinet office after the foundation of the state, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Fianna Fáil who was appointed as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Desmond retires from full-time politics at the 1987 general election for health reasons. She dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005.


Leave a comment

Birth of Patrick Hillery, Sixth President of Ireland

patrick-hilleryPatrick John Hillery, Irish politician and the sixth President of Ireland, is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is educated locally at Milltown Malbay National school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”


Leave a comment

Constance Markievicz Elected to British House of Commons

constance-markieviczConstance Markievicz, while detained in Holloway Prison for her part in conscription activities, becomes the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on December 28, 1918.

Markievicz, an Irish nationalist, who is elected for the Dublin St. Patrick’s constituency, refuses to take her seat in the House of Commons along with 72 other Sinn Féin MPs. Instead her party, which wins the majority of Irish seats in Westminster, establishes the Dáil, a breakaway Dublin assembly, and triggers the Irish War of Independence.

Markievicz, who inherits the title of “countess” from her noble Polish husband, and 45 other MPs are in jail when the first meeting takes place on January 21, 1919. They are described in Gaelic as being “imprisoned by the foreign enemy” when their names are read out during roll call at the Mansion House.

The 27 MPs who attend the Dáil’s first session ratify the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of Easter 1916, which had not been adopted by an elected body but merely by the Easter rebels claiming to act in the name of the Irish people. They also claim there is an “existing state of war, between Ireland and England” in a Message to the Free Nations of the World.

When Markievicz is released in April 1919, she becomes Minister for Labour. Having also been part of the suffragette movement, her deep political convictions contrast deeply with Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. She believes Astor, a Tory who is elected in a 1919 Plymouth by-election after her husband is forced to give up the seat when he becomes a peer, is “out of touch.”

Her political views are also influenced by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who is a regular visitor to the family home, Lissadell House in County Sligo. She becomes involved in the women’s suffrage movement after studying art in London, where she meets and marries Count Casimir Markievicz. In 1903, the couple, who has one son, settles in Dublin, where she becomes involved in nationalist politics. She joins both Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann.

Like Astor, Markievicz has an irrepressible personality and is in no mood to play coy and simply blend in. She comes to her first Sinn Féin meeting wearing a satin ball-gown and a diamond tiara after attending a function at Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule in Ireland.

Markievicz spends a year in the Dáil before walking out along with Éamon de Valera, the future domininant figure in Irish polics, after opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The document, which grants southern Ireland independence but keeps the north as part of the U.K., splits Sinn Féin and triggers the Irish War of Independence.

Following the conflict, which the Pro-Treaty forces win, Markievicz is elected again to the Dáil, but does not take her seat in protest. In 1927, she is elected for a third time as part of de Valera’s new party Fianna Fáil, which pledges to return to the Irish parliament. But before she can take her seat, she dies at age 59 on July 15, 1927, of complications related to appendicitis.


Leave a comment

Patrick J. Hillery Inaugurated Sixth President of Ireland

Patrick John Hillery, Irish politician, is inaugurated as the sixth President of Ireland on December 3, 1976. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He is educated locally at Milltown Malbay national school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into Europe in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”