seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Sister Maura John Clarke

sister-maura-clarkeSister Maura John Clarke, Irish American Catholic Maryknoll sister who serves as a missionary in Nicaragua and El Salvador, is born Mary Elizabeth Clarke in Queens, New York on January 13, 1931, the eldest of three children.

Clarke’s parents, both born in Ireland, settle in Belle Harbor, Queens, New York in the late 1920s. She enters Maryknoll in 1950 and makes her first vows in 1953. Initially, she is attracted to Maryknoll by a deep desire “to become closer to God and to serve Him.”

After graduation from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1954, Sister Clarke is assigned to teach at St. Anthony’s Parish School in The Bronx. In 1959 her growing desire “to serve Him” is further strengthened with her assignment to Siuna, Nicaragua, as a teacher and then superior of the little community. She is in Managua from 1970 to 1976 where she ministers to the people, sharing with them in the cataclysmic earthquake of 1972. With them she works tirelessly, helping them rebuild their homes and establish basic Christian communities.

In 1977 Sister Clarke returns to the Center to serve on a Maryknoll Sisters World Awareness Team, working primarily along the East Coast of the United States. She is the same everywhere she serves – friendly, loving, generous, gentle, using her gifts and abilities tirelessly, and trusting that with God’s help she can do what is needed. When her term with the World Awareness Team ends early in 1980, she decides to return to Nicaragua.

In August 1980 emergency needs in El Salvador call Sister Clarke and she spends her first weeks there in Santa Ana. However, after Sister Carol Piette’s death, she volunteers immediately to accompany Sister Ita Ford in Chalatenango to minister to the poor and oppressed and the imprisoned.

When Sister Clarke comes to the Regional Assembly the day before Thanksgiving, November 26, 1980, she feels not only willing to return to El Salvador, but convinced that Chalatenango is the place where she can and will serve Christ’s poor. With Sister Ford she searches out the missing, prays with the families of prisoners, buries the dead, and works with the people in their struggle to break out of the bonds of oppression, poverty, and violence. Their days are filled with difficulty and fearful danger at times.

Sister Clarke returns with Sister Ford to El Salvador late in the afternoon of December 2, 1980. Two of their good friends and collaborators in mission meet them at the airport to take them back to Chalatenango. A few hours later she is beaten, raped, and murdered along with three fellow missionaries — Sister Ita Ford, Sister Dorothy Kazel and missionary Jean Donovan — by members of the military of El Salvador. She is buried in Chalatenango, El Salvador.


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Birth of Brigadier General Thomas Alfred Smyth

thomas-alfred-smythThomas Alfred Smyth, brigadier general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, is born in Ballyhooly, County Cork on December 25, 1832. He is the last Union general killed in the war. In March 1867, he is nominated and confirmed a brevet major general of volunteers posthumously to rank from April 7, 1865.

Smyth works on his father’s farm in Ireland as a youth. He emigrates to the United States in 1854, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He participates in William Walker‘s expedition to Nicaragua. He is employed as a wood carver and coach and carriage maker. In 1858, he moves to Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1861 Smyth enlists in the Union army in an Irish American three-months regiment, the 24th Pennsylvania, and is quickly made a captain. He is later commissioned as a major of the 1st Delaware Infantry, a three-years regiment. He serves at the battles of Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg, following which he is promoted to lieutenant colonel and then to colonel. During the Gettysburg campaign, he commands the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division of the II Corps. During the Battle of Gettysburg, his men help defend Cemetery Ridge and advance to the area of the Bliss farm to oust enemy sharpshooters. He is wounded on the third day of the battle and relinquishes command briefly.

Smyth retains brigade command during the reorganization of II Corps before Ulysses S. Grant‘s Overland Campaign. He leads the second brigade of the first division from March 25 to May 17, 1864. When Colonel Samuel S. Carroll is wounded, Smyth is transferred to his command, the third brigade of second division, the Gibraltar Brigade. In October 1864, he is promoted to brigadier general during the Siege of Petersburg. He retains command of his brigade throughout the siege.

Between July 31, 1864 and August 22, 1864 and between December 23, 1864 and February 25, 1865, Smyth commands the 2nd division of the corps. In April 1865 near Farmville, Virginia, he is shot through the mouth by a sniper, with the bullet shattering his cervical vertebra and paralyzing him. He dies two days later at Burke’s Tavern, concurrent with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and his Confederate States Army at Appomattox Court House.

On March 18, 1867, President Andrew Johnson nominates Smyth for posthumous appointment to the grade of brevet major general of volunteers to rank from April 7, 1865, the date he was mortally wounded, and the United States Senate confirms the appointment on March 26, 1867. He is the last Union general killed or mortally wounded during the war, and is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.


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Death of Charles G. Halpine, Journalist, Author & Soldier

Charles Graham Halpine (Halpin), Irish journalist, author and soldier during the American Civil War, dies on August 3, 1868, in New York City.

Born at Oldcastle, County Meath, on November 20, 1829, Halpine is the son of the Rev. Nicholas John Halpin. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, until 1846, with original intentions for the medical profession, but ultimately prefers the law. In his leisure time he writes for the press. The sudden death of his father and his own early marriage compel him to adopt journalism as a profession.

In 1851 he emigrates to the United States, and takes up residence in Boston, where he becomes assistant editor of The Boston Post, and, with Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, commences a humorous journal called The Carpet Bag, which is unsuccessful. Afterwards he resides in Washington, D.C., where he acts as the correspondent of The New York Times.

After moving back to New York he secures employment with the New York Herald, and in a few months establishes relations with several periodicals. He undertakes a great variety of literary work, most of which is entirely ephemeral. He next becomes associate editor of The New York Times, for which he writes in 1855 and 1856 the Nicaragua correspondence at the time of William Walker‘s filibustering expedition. In 1857 he becomes principal editor and part proprietor of the New York Leader, which under his management rapidly increases in circulation.

At the beginning of the American Civil War in April 1861, he enlists in the 69th New York Infantry, in which he is soon elected a lieutenant, and serves during the three months for which he has volunteered. He is then transferred to the staff of General David Hunter as assistant-adjutant-general with the rank of major, and soon afterwards goes with him to Missouri to relieve General John Charles Frémont. He accompanies General Hunter to Hilton Head, and while there writes a series of burlesque poems in the assumed character of an Irish private. Several of them are contributed to the New York Herald in 1862 under the pseudonym of “Miles O’Reilly,” and with additional articles are issued in two volumes entitled Life and Adventures, Songs, Services, and Speeches of Private Miles O’Reilly, 47th Regiment New York Volunteers (1864), and Baked Meats of the Funeral, a Collection of Essays, Poems, Speeches, and Banquets, by Private Miles O’Reilly, late of the 47th Regiment New York Volunteer Infantry, 10th Army Corps. Collected, revised, and edited, with the requisite corrections of punctuation, spelling, and grammar, by an Ex-Colonel of the Adjutant-General’s Department, with whom the Private formerly served as Lance-Corporal of Orderlies (1866).

Halpine is subsequently assistant-adjutant-general on General Henry W. Halleck‘s staff with the rank of colonel in 1862, and accompanies General David Hunter as a staff-officer on his expedition up the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1864. On his return to New York he resigns his commission in consequence of his bad eyesight, receiving the brevet of brigadier-general of volunteers.

He then makes New York his home and resumes his literary work. He becomes editor and, later, proprietor of the Citizen, a newspaper issued by the citizens’ association to advocate reforms in the civil administration of New York City. In 1867 he is elected registrar of the county of New York by a coalition of republicans and democrats. Incessant labour brings on insomnia. He has recourse to opiates, and his death in New York City on August 3, 1868 is caused by an undiluted dose of chloroform.


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Birth of Michael D. Higgins, Ninth President of Ireland

Michael Daniel Higgins, politician, human rights activist, university lecturer, poet, and the ninth and current President of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on April 18, 1941. He takes office on November 11, 2011 following victory in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

At age five Higgins is separated from his parents, whose struggle to make ends meet is partly the product of his father’s ill health. He is raised in modest means by relatives in County Clare and starts his working life as a clerk in a bank. With a loan from a benefactor, he enters University College Galway, now National University of Ireland, Galway, at age 20 and continues his study with the benefit of scholarships. He serves as president of the student council and becomes involved with the Fianna Fáil party. Under the influence of politician Noël Browne, he soon switches allegiance to socialism and the Labour Party. An unashamed intellectual, Higgins continues his studies at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Manchester. Before beginning a career in politics, he lectures in sociology and political science at Galway and is a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Twice Higgins runs unsuccessfully for a seat in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, before being appointed to Seanad Éireann, the upper house, by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973. Higgins is then elected to represent Galway West in the Dáil (1981–82) and serves another term in the Seanad (1983–87), representing the National University of Ireland, before becoming a fixture in the Dáil in the seat for Galway West (1987–2011). He also serves two terms as the mayor of Galway (1982–83, 1991–92). Early on he earns a reputation as a leftist firebrand who opposes participation in coalition government. His radical commitment to human rights and to peace and justice in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, as well as his advocacy of progressive issues such as equal pay for women and the rights of people with disabilities, remain constant, but he mellows over the years to accept coalition rule.

In 1993, in the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government led by Albert Reynolds, Higgins becomes the minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht (the districts in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved). In that capacity he champions the Irish film industry and is responsible for the creation of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4). A poet who publishes four books of poetry before his election as president, Higgins earns a reputation as an impassioned and eloquent orator in both Irish and English.

By 2003, when he takes over the leadership of the Labour Party, the diminutive Higgins has become something of a national icon, known to most people simply as “Michael D.” He seeks Labour’s nomination for the presidency in 2004 unsuccessfully, but in 2011 he is elected the ninth president of Ireland with some 40 percent of the first-preference votes. In the process he bests heavily favoured independent Seán Gallagher, who stumbles badly in a televised debate just before the election, as well as Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who steps down temporarily as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to run.


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Ronald Reagan Visits His Ancestral Home in Ballyporeen

reagan-visits-ballyporeen-1984U.S. President Ronald Reagan visits his ancestral home in Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, on June 3, 1984. Reagan’s great-grandfather, Michael Regan, who later changed the spelling of his name, is baptised in the village in 1829. Around 1851, after the Great Famine, he emigrates to London and ultimately the United States in 1857.

Surrounded by throngs of photographers and security people, Reagan slowly makes his way through the tiny village in the bright green hills of County Tipperary. Speaking to 3,000 applauding and cheering visitors gathered under drizzly skies at the main crossroads of Ballyporeen, Reagan explains that until recently he had never known of his roots because his father had been orphaned before reaching the age of six.

“And now,” Reagan tells the exuberant crowd, “thanks to you and the efforts of good people who have dug into the history of a poor immigrant family, I know at last whence I came. And this has given my soul a new contentment. And it is a joyous feeling. It is like coming home after a long journey.”

Reagan, joined by his wife, Nancy, aides, dignitaries, and townspeople worship at the modest Church of the Assumption in Ballyporeen, where his great-grandfather was supposedly baptized in 1829.

After the service, Reagan makes his way down Church Street, shaking the hands of well-wishers. Amid the handshaking, a marching bagpipe corps plays A Nation Once Again and other patriotic tunes.

At the town center, the Reagans visit the pub run by John O’Farrell, who first capitalizes on the news of the President’s lineage and names his establishment “The Ronald Reagan” in 1981. Reagan unveils a plaque for the President Reagan tourist center that is to be built here. While the building housing the pub still stands, the pub closes in 2004 and the following year its fittings and external signage are transported to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where it still stands today.

There is some opposition to Reagan’s visit to Ireland. Authorities keep approximately 600 protesters behind barriers on the outskirts of the village and they are not permitted into the village until after the presidential party had departed. The main focus of the protesters is toward the Reagan administration’s foreign policy, in particular its support of the Contras in Nicaragua.