seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 Signed Into Law

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 is an Act of the Oireachtas which declares that Ireland may be officially described as the Republic of Ireland, and vests in the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations, on the advice of the Government of Ireland. The Act is signed into law on December 21, 1948 and comes into force on April 18, 1949, Easter Monday, the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.

The Act repeals the External Relations Act 1936. Under that Act, King George VI acts as the Irish head of state in international relations by accredited ambassadors and on the State’s behalf accepts credentials appointing foreign ambassadors to the State. The Republic of Ireland Act removes this last remaining practical role from the King and vests it instead in the President of Ireland, making the then President of Ireland, Seán T. O’Kelly, unambiguously the Irish head of state.

In 1945, when asked if he plans to declare a Republic, the then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera replies, “we are a republic.” He also insists that Ireland has no king, but simply uses an external king as an organ in international affairs. However, that is not the view of constitutional lawyers including de Valera’s Attorneys General, whose disagreement with de Valera’s interpretation only come to light when the state papers from the 1930s and 1940s are released to historians. Nor is it the view in the international arena, who believe that Ireland does have a king, George VI, who had been proclaimed King of Ireland in December 1936, and to whom they accredit ambassadors to Ireland. King George, in turn, as “King of Ireland” accredits all Irish diplomats. All treaties signed by the Irish Taoiseach or Minister for External Affairs are signed in the name of King George.

In October 1947, de Valera asks his Attorney General, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, to draft a bill to repeal the External Relations Act. By 1948 a draft of the bill includes a reference to the state as being a republic. In the end, the draft bill is never submitted to the Oireachtas for approval.

The bill to declare Ireland a republic is introduced in 1948 by the new Taoiseach, John A. Costello of the Fine Gael party. Costello makes the announcement that the bill is to be introduced when he is in Ottawa, during an official visit to Canada. David McCullagh suggests that it is a spur of the moment reaction to offence caused by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Alexander, who is of Northern Irish descent, who allegedly places loyalist symbols before an affronted Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that an agreement that there be separate toasts for the King and for the President of Ireland is broken. The Irish position is that a toast to the King, instead of representing both countries, would not include Ireland. Only a toast to the King is proposed, to the fury of the Irish delegation. Shortly afterwards Costello announces the plan to declare the republic.

However, according to all but one of the ministers in Costello’s cabinet, the decision to declare a republic had already been made before Costello’s Canadian visit. Costello’s revelation of the decision is because the Sunday Independent had discovered the fact and was about to “break” the story as an exclusive. The evidence of what really happens remains ambiguous. There is no record of a prior decision to declare a republic before Costello’s Canadian trip.

At any rate, the Act is enacted with all parties voting for it. De Valera does suggest that it would have been better to reserve the declaration of the republic until Irish unity had been achieved, a comment hard to reconcile with his 1945 claim that the Irish state was already a republic. Speaking in Seanad Éireann Costello tells senators that as a matter of law, the King is indeed “King of Ireland” and Irish head of state and the President of Ireland is in effect no more than first citizen and a local notable, until the new law comes into force.

The United Kingdom responds to the Republic of Ireland Act by enacting the Ireland Act 1949. This Act formally asserts that the Irish state had, when the Republic of Ireland Act came into force, ceased “to be part of His Majesty’s dominions” and accordingly is no longer within the Commonwealth. Nonetheless the United Kingdom statute provides that Irish citizens will not be treated as aliens under British nationality law. This, in effect, grants them a status similar to the citizens of Commonwealth countries.


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Birth of Musicologist Francis Llewellyn Harrison

Francis Llewellyn Harrison, better known as “Frank Harrison” or “Frank Ll. Harrison” and one of the leading musicologists of his time and a pioneering ethnomusicologist, is born in Dublin on September 29, 1905. Initially trained as an organist and composer, he turns to musicology in the early 1950s, first specialising in English and Irish music of the Middle Ages and increasingly turning to ethnomusicological subjects in the course of his career. His Music in Medieval Britain (1958) is still a standard work on the subject, and Time, Place and Music (1973) is a key textbook on ethnomusicology.

Harrison is the second son of Alfred Francis Harrison and Florence May (née Nash). He becomes a chorister at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin in 1912 and is educated at the cathedral grammar school and Mountjoy School. A competent organist, he is deputy organist at St. Patrick’s from 1925 to 1928. In 1920, he also begins musical studies at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he studies with John Francis Larchet (composition), George Hewson (organ) and Michele Esposito (piano). In 1926, he graduates Bachelor of Music at Trinity College Dublin and is awarded a doctorate (MusD) in 1929 for a musical setting of Psalm 19. He then works in Kilkenny for one year, serving as organist at St. Canice’s Cathedral and music teacher at Kilkenny College.

In 1930, Harrison emigrates to Canada to become organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 1933, he studies briefly with Marcel Dupré in France, but returns to Canada in 1934 to become organist at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. In 1935, he takes a position as organist and choirmaster at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario, as well as taking up the newly created post of “resident musician” at Queen’s University at Kingston. His duties include giving lectures, running a choir and an orchestra, and conducting concerts himself. His course in the history and appreciation of music is the first music course to be given for full credit at Queen’s. He resigns from St. George’s in 1941 to become assistant professor of music at Queen’s in 1942. During his years in Canada he still pursues the idea of remaining a performing musician and composer, winning three national composition competitions: for Winter’s Poem (1931), Baroque Suite (1943) and Night Hymns on Lake Nipigon (1945).

On a year’s leave of absence from Queen’s, Harrison studies composition with Paul Hindemith at Yale University, also taking courses in musicology with Leo Schrade. In 1946, he takes up a position at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and then moves on to Washington University in St. Louis as head of the new Department of Music (1947–1950).

In 1951, Harrison takes the degrees of Master of Arts (M.A.) and Doctor of Music (DMus) at Jesus College, Oxford, and becomes lecturer (1952), senior lecturer (1956), and reader in the history of music (1962–1970) there. In 1965, he is elected Fellow the British Academy and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford. From 1970 to 1980, he is Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, retiring to part-time teaching in 1976.

Harrison also holds Visiting Professorships in musicology at Yale University (1958–1959), Princeton University (spring 1961 and 1968–1969), and Dartmouth College (winter 1968 and spring 1972). He also briefly returns to Queen’s University at Kingston as Queen’s Quest Visiting Professor in the fall of 1980 and is Visiting Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh for the calendar year 1981.

Harrison’s honorary titles also include Doctor of Laws at Queen’s University, Kingston (1974), Corresponding Member of the American Musicological Society (1981), and Vice President and Chairman of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1985). At Queen’s also, the new Harrison-LeCaine Hall (1974) is partly named in his honour.

Harrison dies in Canterbury, England on December 29, 1987.

In 1989, Harry White appreciates Harrison as “an Irish musicologist of international standing and of seminal influence, whose scholarly achievement, astonishingly, encompassed virtually the complete scope of the discipline which he espoused.” David F. L. Chadd writes of him “He was above all things an explorer, tirelessly curious and boyishly delighted in the pursuit of knowledge, experience and ideas, and totally heedless of artificially imposed constraints and boundaries.”

Since 2004, the Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI) awards a bi-annual Irish Research Council Harrison Medal in his honour to distinguished international musicologists.


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Birth of Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Lord Dufferin

Created with GIMPFrederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, British diplomat who is a distinguished Governor General of Canada and Viceroy and Governor-General of India and holder of Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, County Down, is born in Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Italy on June 21, 1826.

The son of Price Blackwood, 4th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, Blackwood is educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford. In his youth he is a popular figure in the court of Queen Victoria, and becomes well known to the public after publishing a best-selling account of his travels in the North Atlantic.

Lord Dufferin’s long career in public service begins as a commissioner to Syria in 1860, where his skillful diplomacy maintains British interests while preventing France from instituting a client state in Lebanon. After his success in Syria, he serves in the Government of the United Kingdom as William Ewart Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Under-Secretary of State for War. He is created Earl of Dufferin in 1871.

In 1872 Lord Dufferin becomes the third Governor General of Canada, bolstering imperial ties in the early years of the Dominion. After leaving Ottawa in 1878 at the end of his term, he returns to Great Britain to continue his diplomatic career. He serves as British ambassador to Imperial Russia from 1879 to 1881. In 1881 he becomes ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and deals with the problems raised by the British occupation of the Ottoman dependency of Egypt. In 1884 he reaches the pinnacle of his diplomatic career when he succeeds George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon as Viceroy and Governor-General of India and placates the British community there, which had been antagonized by Ripon’s reforms.

By the annexation of Burma (Myanmar) in 1886, Lord Dufferin consolidates British territories. For his services he is made Marquess of Dufferin and Ava when, in 1888, he retires from India. He then spends three years (1889–91) as Britain’s ambassador to Italy and four years (1892–96) as ambassador to France. He retires in 1896.

Following his retirement from the diplomatic service, Lord Dufferin’s final years are marred by personal tragedy and a misguided attempt to secure his family’s financial position. In 1897, worried about the family financial situation, he is persuaded to become chairman of the London and Globe Finance Corporation, a mining promotion and holding company controlled by Whitaker Wright. It subsequently transpires that Wright is a consummate fraudster and the firm goes bankrupt, although Lord Dufferin is not guilty of any deception and his moral standing remains unaffected. Soon after the misfortune, his eldest son, Lord Ava, is killed in the Second Boer War and another son is badly wounded.

Following the death of his son and in poor health, Lord Dufferin returns to his country house at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down, and dies there on February 12, 1902.

Lord Dufferin’s biographer Richard Davenport-Hines says he was “imaginative, sympathetic, warm-hearted, and gloriously versatile.” He was an effective leader in Lebanon, Canada and India, averted war with Russia, and annexed Burma. He was careless with money but charming in high society on three continents.


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Birth of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Canadian Politician

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth.

McGee grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On April 7, 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre F. Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.


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Birth of Charles Monck, 1st Governor General of Canada

charles-stanley-monckCharles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck GCMG PC, the last Governor-General of the Province of Canada and the first Governor General of Canada after Canadian Confederation, is born on October 10, 1819 in Templemore, County Tipperary. Prior to Confederation he is concurrently Lieutenant Governor of both Canada West and Canada East. He is the son of Charles Monck, 3rd Viscount Monck, and his wife Bridget née Willington.

Monck obtains a law degree from Trinity College, Dublin. He marries his first cousin Lady Elizabeth Louise Mary Monck on July 24, 1844, and in 1849 he inherits his father’s title of Viscount Monck. In 1852 he is elected MP for Portsmouth, and from 1855 to 1858 he serves as Lord of the Treasury under Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.

In 1861 Monck is appointed Governor General of British North America as well as Governor of the Province of Canada. During this time, the Canadian colonies are beginning to organise themselves into a confederation. The American Civil War has just broken out, and the Trent Affair causes diplomatic tension between the United States and Britain. The Canadian government is eager to gain some measure of independence during this turbulent period. The Quebec Conference, the Charlottetown Conference, and the London Conference, at which the details of confederation are discussed, all take place during Monck’s time as governor. Monck supports the idea, and works closely with John A. Macdonald, George Brown, George-Étienne Cartier, and Étienne-Paschal Taché, who form the “Great Coalition” in 1864.

In 1866 Monck becomes a peer with the title Baron Monck. When the Canadian colonies become a semi-independent confederation the next year, he becomes the country’s first Governor General. He is also responsible for establishing Rideau Hall as the residence of the Governor General in Ottawa.

In 1869 Monck is succeeded by John Young, 1st Baron Lisgar. He returns home to Ireland, where he becomes Lord Lieutenant of Dublin in 1874. He dies in Enniskerry, County Wicklow on November 29, 1894.


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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.


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The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish-Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is assassinated by Fenian elements on April 7, 1868, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee, born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth, grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On 7 April 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.


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Death of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records several 78 RPM records in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP record, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title. Her notable voice gives her the nickname the “Queen of Connemara.”

Murphy is born on February 16, 1902, in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo, to a well-off family. Her 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. Murphy’s father encourages her 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.

Murphy 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. While at 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 Murphy 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. Murphy becomes one of those who assist Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in saving the lives of 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy.

In 1946, Murphy 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 living in Ottawa, Murphy makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. Murphy and Kiernan 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 Murphy’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, until her death. During her lifetime she records upwards of 100 songs.