seamus dubhghaill

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


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U.S. Senate Inquiry into the RMS Titanic Sinking

william-alden-smithThe April 15, 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, the trans-Atlantic passenger liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, results in an inquiry by the United States Senate, which begins at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City  on April 19, 1912. Chaired by Senator William Alden Smith (R-Michigan), the inquiry is a subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce. The hearings later move to the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. and conclude on May 25, 1912 with a return visit to New York.

Seven senators serve on the subcommittee, with three Republicans and three Democrats in addition to Smith as chair. The other six senators are Jonathan Bourne (R-Oregon), Theodore E. Burton (R-Ohio), Duncan U. Fletcher (D-Florida), Francis G. Newlands (D-Nevada), George Clement Perkins (R-California), and Furnifold McLendel Simmons (D-North Carolina). The composition of the subcommittee is carefully chosen to represent the conservative, moderate and liberal wings of the two parties.

During 18 days of official investigations, punctuated by recesses, testimony is recorded from over 80 witnesses. These include surviving passengers and crew members, as well as captains and crew members of other ships in the vicinity, expert witnesses, and various officials and others involved in receiving and transmitting the news of the disaster. The evidence submitted varies from spoken testimony and questioning, to the deposition of correspondence and affidavits. Subjects covered include the ice warnings received, the inadequate (but legal) number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, RMS Titanic‘s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship.

The final report is presented to the United States Senate on May 28, 1912. It is nineteen pages long and includes 44 pages of exhibits, and summarises 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits. Its recommendations, along with those of the British inquiry that concludes on July 3, 1912, lead to many changes in safety practices following the disaster.

The report is strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that RMS Titanic‘s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlights the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard the ship and more generally in the shipping industry and the British Board of Trade. However, it does not find the International Mercantile Marine Company, an American consortium, or the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could thus only be categorised as an “act of God.”

The inquiry is heavily criticised in Britain, both for its conduct and for Smith’s style of questioning. Many newspapers publish scathing editorial cartoons depicting Smith in unflattering terms. The British government is also hostile towards the inquiry. The British Ambassador to the United States, James Bryce, demands that President William Howard Taft dissolve the committee and refuses to recognise its jurisdiction.

Some British writers, however, applaud the inquiry. G. K. Chesterton contrasts the American objective of maximum openness with what he calls Britain’s “national evil,” which he describes as being to “hush everything up; it is to damp everything down; it is to leave the great affair unfinished, to leave every enormous question unanswered.” The American reaction is also generally positive. The American press welcomes Smith’s findings and accepts his recommendations, commending the senator for establishing the key facts of the disaster.

(Pictured: U.S. Senator William Alden Smith, chairman of the Senate inquiry into the RMS Titanic disaster)

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Death of Olympic Gold Medalist Martin John Sheridan

martin-john-sheridanMartin John Sheridan, “one of the greatest athletes the United States has ever known” according to his obituary in The New York Times, dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, the day before his 37th birthday.

Sheridan is born in Bohola, County Mayo on March 28, 1881. At 6’3″ and 194 lbs., Sheridan is the best all-around athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club, and like many of his teammates, serves with the New York City Police Department from 1906 until his death. He is so well respected in the NYPD, that he serves as the Governor’s personal bodyguard when the governor is in New York City.

A five-time Olympic gold medalist, with a total of nine Olympic medals, Sheridan is called “one of the greatest figures that ever represented this country in international sport, as well as being one of the most popular who ever attained the championship honor.” He wins the discus throw event at the 1904, 1906, and 1908 Summer Olympic Games as well as the shot put at the 1906 Olympics and the Greek discus in 1908. At the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece he also wins silver medals in the standing high jump, standing long jump and the stone throw.

In 1907, Sheridan wins the National Amateur Athletic Union discus championship and the Canadian championship, and in 1908 he wins the Metropolitan, National and Canadian championships as well as two gold medals in the discus throw and bronze in the standing long jump at the 1908 Olympic Games.

Two of Sheridan’s gold medals from the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri and one of his medals from the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece, are currently located in the USA Track & Field‘s Hall of Fame History Gallery, in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

There are claims that Sheridan fuels a controversy in London in 1908, when flagbearer Ralph Rose refuses to dip the flag to King Edward VII. Sheridan supports Rose by explaining “This flag dips to no earthly king,” and it is claimed that his statement exemplifies both Irish and American defiance of the British monarchy. However, careful research has shown that this is first reported in 1952. Sheridan himself makes no mention of it in his published reports on the Games and neither does his obituary.

Martin Sheridan dies in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, a very early casualty of the 1918 flu pandemic. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. The inscription on the granite Celtic Cross monument marking his grave says in part: “Devoted to the Institutions of his Country, and the Ideals and Aspirations of his Race. Athlete. Patriot.” He is part of a group of Irish American athletes known as the “Irish Whales.”


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Initial Publication of “At Swim-Two-Birds”

at-swim-two-birdsAt Swim-Two-Birds, a novel by Irish writer Brian O’Nolan writing under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien, is published on March 13, 1939. It is widely considered to be O’Brien’s masterpiece, and one of the most sophisticated examples of metafiction.

At Swim-Two-Birds is accepted for publication by Longman on the recommendation of Graham Greene, who is a reader for them at the time. It is published under the pseudonym of Flann O’Brien, a name O’Nolan had already used to write hoax letters to The Irish Times. O’Nolan suggests using “Flann O’Brien” as a pen-name during negotiation with Longman. The novel’s title derives from Snámh dá Én, a ford on the River Shannon, between Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge, reportedly visited by the legendary King Sweeney, a character in the novel.

The book does not sell well after it is published. By the outbreak of World War II it has sold scarcely more than 240 copies. In 1940, Longman’s London premises are destroyed during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe and almost all the unsold copies are incinerated. The novel is republished by Pantheon Books in New York City in 1950, on the recommendation of James Johnson Sweeney, but sales remain low. In May 1959 Timothy O’Keeffe, while editorial director of the London publishing house MacGibbon & Kee, persuades O’Nolan to allow him to republish At Swim-Two-Birds. More recently, the novel is republished in the United States by Dalkey Archive Press.

The initial reviews for At Swim-Two-Birds are not enthusiastic. The Times Literary Supplement says that the book’s only notable feature is a “schoolboy brand of mild vulgarity.” The New Statesman complains that “long passages in imitation of the Joycean parody of the early Irish epic are devastatingly dull” and the Irish novelist Seán Ó Faoláin comments in John O’London’s Weekly that although the book had its moments, it “had a general odour of spilt Joyce all over it.”

However, most of the support for At Swim-Two-Birds comes not from newspaper reviewers but from writers. Dylan Thomas, in a remark that would be quoted on dust-jackets in later editions of the book, says “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” Anthony Burgess considers it one of the ninety-nine greatest novels written between 1939 and 1984. Graham Greene’s enthusiastic reader’s report is instrumental in getting the book published in the first place.

Stephen Fry has declared At Swim-Two-Birds one of his favourite books. In 2011, the book is placed on Time‘s top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.


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Irish Race Convention of 1916

hotel-astor-nycThe third Irish Race Convention is held in New York City on March 4, 1916 and serves as an immediate call for the Easter Rebellion in Dublin. Previous conventions were held in Chicago (1881) and Dublin (1896). The Irish Race Conventions are a disconnected series of conventions held in Europe and the Americas between 1881 and 1994. The main participants and financial supporters of the conventions are usually Irish Americans.

The 1916 convention, comprising 2,300 delegates at the Hotel Astor, is held six weeks before the Easter Rising, and considers the division between the home Rule parties and the more militant nationalists. The Rising would be supported by Clan na Gael, but other members remain hopeful that the 1914 Home Rule Act, which had been passed but suspended during World War I, might work.

A majority at the convention support the American policy of neutrality during the war, and are opposed to any alliance with Britain. Woodrow Wilson wins the United States presidential election in 1916 with help from Irish Americans and his campaign slogan of “He kept us out of War.”

An important result is the formation of the “Friends of Irish Freedom” that work as a coordinating body to support “the independence of Ireland, the industrial development of Ireland, the use and sale of Irish products, and to revive Irish culture.”

(Pictured: Hotel Astor, located in the Times Square area of Manhattan, New York City. The hotel was demolished in 1967 and replaced with the 54-story high-rise office tower One Astor Plaza.)


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Birth of Irish Artist Nano Reid

nano-reid-crumphan-achillNano Reid, Irish landscape artist, figure painter and portraitist, is born in Drogheda, County Louth on March 1, 1900. An individual, expressionistic artist, Reid is acknowledged to be one of the finest Irish woman painters of twentieth-century visual art in Ireland. Her works are represented in many public collections throughout Ireland.

In 1920, Reid wins a scholarship to study fine art painting and drawing at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, now the National College of Art and Design, under Harry Clarke. At the time, she is, in the words of fellow student Hilda van Stockum, “a fierce redhead…uncompromising and looking for truth.” In 1925 she starts showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), submitting a total of 42 canvases until the late 1960s.

In 1928, Reid goes to Paris and enrolls briefly at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, after which she spends a year in London studying fine art at the Central School of Arts and Crafts under Bernard Meninsky. She returns to Ireland in 1931 and once more begins exhibiting her landscape painting at the RHA.

In 1950, with Norah McGuinness, Reid represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale. This is followed by the Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art in Aberystwyth, Wales (1953), and the Mostra Internazionale di Bianco e Nero in Lugano, Switzerland (1956), the Guggenheim International Award Exhibition in New York City (1960) and the Twelve Irish Painters show in New York City (1963). In 1974, the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland stage a major retrospective of Reid’s artworks.

Nano Reid dies in Drogheda in 1981. Retrospectives are held at Taylor Galleries in Dublin (1984), Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda (1991), and at Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, County Mayo (1999).

(Pictured: “Crumphan, Achill,” oil on canvas)


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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.


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Birth of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, is born on February 16, 1902 in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo. She records several 78 rpm records in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title.

Delia’s father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. John encouraged Delia’s interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Delia is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Delia sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941 Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Delia becomes one of those who assist Hugh O’Flaherty in hiding Jews and escapes allied soldiers from the Nazis. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy. In 1946 she is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while she is living in Ottawa, Delia makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. The Kiernans purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Delia’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin. She dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records upwards of 100 songs during her lifetime.