seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.

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Birth of Joe Gilmore, Head Barman

joe-gilmoreJoe Gilmore, one of the longest running Head Barmen at the Savoy Hotel‘s American Bar, is born in Belfast on May 19, 1922.

The Gilmores own a popular tobacconist shop at the top of the Limestone Road, which remains in business through the Troubles until the mid-1990s. But Gilmore has plans to go places so, at the age of sixteen, he sets out with a friend for London.

His first job is packing rolls of wallpaper at a Sanderson’s factory before moving to a Lyons Corner House as a dish washer with the prospect of getting some decent dinners. He begins training as a barman at London’s La Coquille and The Olde Bell at Hurley, where a chance encounter serving a stylish couple sets the scene for the remarkable life that follows.

At the age of eighteen, Gilmore starts as a trainee barman at The American Bar in 1940 and is appointed Head Barman in 1955, a position he holds until he retires in 1976. Over his years as Head Barman, Gilmore invents numerous cocktails to mark special events and important guests, a longstanding tradition at the American Bar.

Gilmore has invented cocktails in honor of a number of royalty, politicians, and celebrities including the Prince of Wales, Prince William, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Prince Andrew, Sir Winston Churchill, and American Presidents Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon. He also invents cocktails to commemorate the first walk on the moon in 1969 by Neil Armstrong, and the American and Russian link-up in space in 1975.

In addition to serving five generations of royals at private receptions and parties, Gilmore has also served Errol Flynn, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grace Kelly, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Noël Coward, Agatha Christie, Alice Faye, Ingrid Bergman, Julie Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.

Gilmore never forgets his Irish roots or family, and never loses his soft Belfast accent. Joe Gilmore dies at the age of 93 on December 18, 2015. His funeral is arranged by A. France & Son, undertakers to Admiral Nelson and near-neighbours in Lamb Conduit Street for more than 50 years. The Savoy sends their senior management and bar staff in their smart white uniforms.