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


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Execution of Thomas Russell, United Irishmen Co-founder

thomas-russellThomas Paliser Russell, co-founder and leader of the Society of United Irishmen, is executed for his part in Robert Emmet‘s rebellion on October 21, 1803.

Born in Dromahane, County Cork to an Anglican family, Russell joins the British army in 1783 and serves in India. He returns to Ireland in 1786 and commences studies in science, philosophy and politics. In July 1790 he meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery in the Irish House of Commons and they become firm friends.

In 1790 Russell resumes his military career as a junior officer in the 64th Regiment of Foot and is posted to Belfast. The French Revolution in 1789 is warmly greeted in Belfast as are its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. With his keen mind and radical ideas, Russell soon becomes a confidante of Henry Joy McCracken, James Hope, Samuel Neilson and others who are to play a prominent role in the United Irish movement. With them he develops ideas of parliamentary reform, to include the bulk of the people, and Catholic emancipation.

Russell leaves the army in July 1791 and attends a convention of the Whig Club in Belfast to mark Bastille Day. The convention is addressed by William Drennan, who proposes a brotherhood promoting separation from England and co-operation with the increasingly radical Cisalpine Club in the pursuit of political and social reforms. However, Russell notes the lack of trust between Dissenters and Catholics which is due to fears that Catholic radicalism can be bought off by religious concessions. Informing Wolfe Tone of his observations, within weeks leads to Wolfe Tone’s publication of Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland to address these suspicions. The pamphlet is extremely well received and provides the impetus for the founding of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast on October 18, 1791.

Pressure from Dublin Castle later forces the United Irish movement to become a clandestine organisation as the would-be revolutionaries seek to continue their slow progress towards challenging the occupying British.

In 1795 Russell, Andrew Henderson, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson lead a band of United Irishmen to the top of Cavehill overlooking the town of Belfast where they swear an oath “never to desist in our effort until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence” prior to Wolfe Tone’s exile to the United States. The event is noted in Dublin Castle although there is no immediate move to disband or arrest the members of the United Irishmen.

In 1796, Russell publishes an ambitious and far-sighted document, Letter to the People of Ireland, which lays out his vision of social and economic reform for the Irish nation. In addition to his stance on religious freedom, he makes clear his anti-slavery views in the Northern Star on March 17, 1792.

Russell takes an active part in organising the Society of United Irishmen becoming the United Irish commander in County Down. However the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1793 leads to an ongoing campaign against the United Irishmen and in 1796 he is arrested and imprisoned as a “state prisoner” in Dublin. In March 1799 he and the other state prisoners are transferred to Fort George in Scotland, an extensive fortress some miles north of Inverness built in the wake of the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46. He is released on condition of exile to Hamburg in June 1802 following a brief cessation in the war with France.

Not content to sit things out in Hamburg, Russell soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who is planning another insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. He agrees to return to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the north is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and displays little appetite for a renewed outbreak. Finally, finding some support in the vicinity of Loughinisland, he prepares to take to the field on July 23, 1803, the date set by Emmett.

However the plan is badly thought out and quickly collapses, forcing Russell to flee to Dublin before a shot is fired in anger. He manages to hide for a number of weeks but Dublin is a hard place in which to hide in the days following the failure of Emmett’s rebellion as the shocked authorities have launched a massive campaign of raids and arrests in an effort to finally eradicate the United Irishmen.

Thomas Russell is promptly arrested and sent to Downpatrick Gaol where he is executed by hanging then beheaded on October 21, 1803.

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Birth of Thomas Burke, Irish Dominican Preacher

thomas-nicholas-burke-statueThomas Nicholas Burke, Irish Dominican preacher, is born in Galway, County Galway on September 8, 1830.

Burke’s parents, though in moderate circumstances, gave him a good education. He studies at first under the care of the Patrician Brothers, and is afterwards sent to a private school. An attack of typhoid fever when he is fourteen years old and the famine year of 1847 have a sobering effect. Toward the end of that year he asks to be received into the Order of Preachers, and is sent to Perugia in Italy to make his novitiate. On December 29, he is clothed there in the habit of St. Dominic and receives the name of Thomas.

Shortly afterward Burke is sent to Rome to begin his studies at the College of St. Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he is a student of philosophy and theology. He passes thence to the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. His superiors send him, while yet a student, as novice-master to Woodchester, the novitiate of the resuscitated English Province. He is ordained into the priesthood on March 26, 1853. On August 3, 1854, he defends publicly the theses in universâ theologiâ. He is made lector at the College of St. Thomas in 1854.

Early in the following year Burke is recalled to Ireland to found the novitiate of the Irish Province at Tallaght, near Dublin. In 1859 he preaches his first notable sermon on “Church Music.” It immediately lifts him into fame.

Elected Prior of Tallaght in 1863, Burke goes to Rome the following year as Rector of the Dominican Convent of San Clemente and attracts great attention by his preaching. He returns to Ireland in 1867 and delivers his oration on Daniel O’Connell at Glasnevin before fifty thousand people.

Bishop Leahy takes him as his theologian to the First Vatican Council in 1870, and the following year he is sent as Visitor to the Dominican convents in America. He is besieged with invitations to preach and lecture. The seats are filled hours before he appears and his audiences overflow the churches and halls in which he lectures. In New York City he delivers the discourses in refutation of the English historian James Anthony Froude.

In an eighteen month period Burke gives four hundred lectures, exclusive of sermons, with the proceeds amounting to nearly $400,000. His mission is a triumph, but the triumph is dearly won. When he arrives in Ireland on March 7, 1873, he is spent and broken.

During the next decade Burke preaches in Ireland, England, and Scotland. He begins the erection of the church in Tallaght in 1883, and the following May preaches a series of sermons in the new Dominican church, London. In June he returns to Tallaght in a dying condition and preaches his last sermon in the Jesuit church, Dublin, in aid of the starving children of Donegal. A few days afterwards, on July 2, 1882, he dies. He is buried in the church of Tallaght, now a memorial to him.

(Pictured: Statue of Thomas Nicholas Burke by John Francis Kavanagh by Nimmo’s Pier in Galway)


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Patrick Francis Healy Becomes President of Georgetown University

Patrick Francis Healy, Jesuit priest and educator, becomes the 29th President of Georgetown University on July 31, 1874. He is known for expanding the school following the American Civil War. Healy Hall is constructed during his tenure and is named after him. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark in the late 20th century.

Healy is born into slavery in 1834 in Macon, Georgia, the third son of Irish American plantation owner Michael Healy and his African American slave Mary Eliza, who is the multiracial daughter of a black slave and white slaveowner. The law establishes during colonial slavery in the United States that children are to take the legal status of the mother. By the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, Patrick and his siblings are legally considered slaves in Georgia, although their father is free and they are three-quarters or more European in ancestry.

Discriminatory laws in Georgia prohibit the education of slaves and require legislative approval for each act of manumission, making these essentially impossible to gain. Michael Healy arranges for all his children to leave Georgia and move to the North to obtain their educations and have opportunities in their lives. They are raised as Irish Catholics. Patrick’s brothers and sisters are nearly all educated in Catholic schools and colleges. Many achieve notable firsts for Americans of mixed-race ancestry during the second half of the 19th century, and the Healy family of Georgia is remarkably successful.

Healy sends his older sons first to a Quaker school in Flushing, New York. Despite the Quakers’ emphasis on equality, Patrick encounters some discrimination during his grade school years, chiefly because his father is a slaveholder, which by the late antebellum years the Quakers consider unforgivable. Patrick also meets resistance in the school as an Irish Catholic. When Michael Healy hears of a new Jesuit college, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he sends his four oldest sons, including Patrick, to study there in 1844. They are joined at Holy Cross by their younger brother Michael in 1849.

Following Patrick’s graduation in 1850, he enters the Jesuit order, the first African American to do so, and continues his studies. The order sends him to Europe to study in 1858. His mixed-race ancestry has become an issue in the United States, where tensions are rising over slavery. He attends the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, earning his doctorate, becoming the first American of openly acknowledged part-African descent to do so. During this period he is also ordained to the priesthood on September 3, 1864.

In 1866 Healy returns to the United States and teaches philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. On July 31, 1874, he is selected as the school’s twenty-ninth president. He is the first college president in the United States of African-American ancestry. At the time, he identifies as Irish Catholic and is accepted as such.

Patrick Healy’s influence on Georgetown is so far-reaching that he is often referred to as the school’s “second founder,” following Archbishop John Carroll. Healy helps transform the small nineteenth-century college into a major university for the twentieth century, likely influenced by his European education.

He modernizes the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He expands and upgrades the schools of law and medicine. The most visible result of Healy’s presidency is the construction of the university’s flagship building designed by Paul J. Pelz, begun in 1877 and first used in 1881. The building is named in his honor as Healy Hall.

Healy leaves the College in 1882 and travels extensively through the United States and Europe, often in the company of his brother James, a bishop in Maine. In 1908 he returns to the campus infirmary, where he dies on January 10, 1910. He is buried on the grounds of the university in the Jesuit cemetery.