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


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.


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Founding of the Irish Emigrant Society

An illustration from The Weekly Herald, 1845.The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in New York City on March 22, 1841.

The Irish and other emigrants face numerous abuses such as “illusive advertisements,” “crooked contractors,” “dishonest prospectuses” and “remittent sharpers” when they arrive in the United States. The Irish Emigrant Society is founded in 1841 by a group of New York Irish to combat issues such as these.

In December 1848 the Emigrant Society advises emigrants that as soon as their ship comes into harbour she will be boarded by an agent of the Society who will offer them sound and honest advice. In addition they warn that the ship will also be boarded by a large number of “runners” – conmen who will make it their business to attract them to the boarding houses that employ them. Emigrants are instructed be careful not to accept help from them as their ploy is to promise good quality board at low prices, but when they come to leave the house an exorbitant fee will be demanded. They will threaten not to hand over luggage unless this fee is paid and violent scenes might often ensue.

The Society warns that many persons, some of Irish birth, have set up offices in the city where they claim to be agents for railroad and steamboat enterprises. These crooks sell tickets which appear to entitle the holder to travel to specific destinations but which are worthless. To protect emigrants from such frauds, various measures are introduced in New York in 1848 including the construction of reception centres and the licensing of steam boats to take emigrants from the quarantine to the landing piers. Boarding houses are also required to display their prices in English, Dutch, German, Welsh and French.

Emigrants who survive the ordeal of the crossing are faced with the decision of where to settle in America. Newspapers carry advertisements singing the praises of the land and climate of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan but never mention the backbreaking work of clearing the land for farming. California also proves to be a very popular destination when news of the California Gold Rush breaks in 1849. It also provides opportunities on the lands that the Native Americans have deserted in search of gold.

(From: “1841 – The Irish Emigrant Society Is Founded In New York,” Stair na hÉireann, https://stairnaheireann.net


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Birth of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Activist & Feminist

elizabeth-gurley-flynnElizabeth Gurley Flynn, labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7, 1890. She is a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

Flynn’s family moves to New York in 1900, where she is educated in the local public schools. She grows up being regaled by tales of Irish revolutionaries. According to their oral tradition all four of her great-grandfathers, Flynn, Gurley, Conneran, and Ryan, are members of the Society of United Irishmen, with grandfather Flynn being one of the leaders in County Mayo when the French fleet lands there during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Her parents introduce her to socialism. When she is only fifteen she gives her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club.

In 1907, Flynn becomes a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Over the next few years she organizes campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington and textile workers in Massachusetts. She is arrested ten times during this period but is never convicted of any criminal activity. It is a plea bargain, on the other hand, that results in her expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor.

A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn plays a leading role in the campaign against the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. She is particularly concerned with women’s rights, supporting birth control and women’s suffrage. She also criticizes the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.

Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lives in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and Wobbly Marie Equi where she is an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike. In 1936, she joins the Communist Party and writes a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she is elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party leads to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.

During World War II, Flynn plays an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. In 1942, she runs for the United States Congress at-large in New York and receives 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party are arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. After they are convicted in the Foley Square trial they appeal to the Supreme Court, which upholds their conviction in Dennis v. United States.

Flynn launches a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, is herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act. After a nine-month trial, she is found guilty and serves two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later writes a prison memoir, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.

After her release from prison, Flynn resumes her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She runs for the New York City Council as a Communist in 1957, garnering a total of 710 votes. She becomes national chairwoman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961 and makes several visits to the Soviet Union.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dies on September 5, 1964, while on one of her visits to the Soviet Union. The Soviet government gives her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, her remains are flown to the United States for burial in Chicago‘s German Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.

In 1978, the ACLU posthumously reinstates her membership.


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Birth of John Ireland, First Archbishop of St. Paul

John Ireland, the third Roman Catholic bishop and first Roman Catholic archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota, is born in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, on September 11, 1838. He becomes both a religious as well as civic leader in Saint Paul during the turn of the 20th century.

Ireland is known for his progressive stance on education, immigration and relations between church and state, as well as his opposition to saloons and political corruption. He promotes the Americanization of Catholicism, especially in the furtherance of progressive social ideals. He is a leader of the modernizing element in the Roman Catholic Church during the Progressive Era. He creates or helps to create many religious and educational institutions in Minnesota. He is also remembered for his acrimonious relations with Eastern Catholics.

Ireland’s family immigrates to the United States in 1848 and eventually moves to Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1852. One year later Joseph Crétin, first bishop of Saint Paul, sends Ireland to the preparatory seminary of Meximieux in France. Ireland is consequently ordained in 1861 in Saint Paul. He serves as a chaplain of the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War until 1863 when ill health leads to his resignation. Later, he is famous nationwide in the Grand Army of the Republic.

Ireland is appointed pastor at Saint Paul’s cathedral in 1867, a position which he holds until 1875. In 1875, he is made coadjutor bishop of St. Paul and in 1884 he becomes bishop ordinary. In 1888 he becomes archbishop with the elevation of his diocese and the erection of the ecclesiastical province of Saint Paul. Ireland retains this title for thirty years until his death in 1918. Before Ireland dies he burns all of his personal papers.

Ireland is awarded an honorary doctorate (LL.D.) by Yale University in October 1901, during celebrations for the bicentenary of the university.

Ireland is personal friends with Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. At a time when most Irish Catholics are staunch Democrats, Ireland is known for being close to the Republican party. He opposes racial inequality and calls for “equal rights and equal privileges, political, civil, and social.” Ireland’s funeral is attended by eight archbishops, thirty bishops, twelve monsignors, seven hundred priests and two hundred seminarians.

A friend of James J. Hill, Archbishop Ireland has his portrait painted in 1895 by the Swiss-born American portrait painter Adolfo Müller-Ury almost certainly on Hill’s behalf, which is exhibited at M. Knoedler & Co., New York, January 1895 and again in 1897.