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


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The Execution of Joe Brady

joe-bradyJoe Brady is hanged at Kilmainham Gaol in Kilmainham, Dublin on May 14, 1883 for the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Four others are also executed for the murders.

Brady is a member of the Irish National Invincibles, usually known as the Invincibles, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This group of assassins is active in Dublin between late 1881 and 1883, with an intent to kill the authorities in Dublin Castle.

After numerous attempts on his life, Chief Secretary for Ireland William Edward “Buckshot” Forster resigns in protest of the Kilmainham Treaty. The Invincibles settle on a plan to kill the Permanent Under Secretary Thomas Henry Burke at the Irish Office. The newly installed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, is walking in Phoenix Park with Burke on Saturday, May 6, 1882, the day of his arrival in Ireland, when the assassins strike.

The first assassination in the park is committed by Brady, who attacks Burke with a 12-inch knife, followed in short order by Tim Kelly, who knifes Cavendish. Both men use surgical knives. The British press expresses outrage and demands that the “Phoenix Park Murderers” be brought to justice.

A large number of suspects are arrested. By playing one suspect against another, Superintendent Mallon of G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police gets several of them to reveal what they know. The Invincibles’ leader, James Carey, and Michael Kavanagh agree to testify against the others. Carey is ultimately given passage to South Africa but is shot on board the Melrose Castle by Patrick O’Donnell. O’Donnell is brought back to England and hanged in December 1883.

Brady, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey, Dan Curley and Tim Kelly are hanged by William Marwood in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin beginning with Brady’s execution on May 14 and and continuing until June 4. Others are sentenced to long prison terms.

No member of the founding executive, however, is ever brought to trial by the British government. John Walsh, Patrick Egan, John Sheridan, Frank Byrne, and Patrick Tynan are welcomed in the United States, where sentiment toward the murders is less severe, although not celebratory.

Brady by all accounts was a mountain of a man. The Times writes following his execution: “He was brought up as a stonemason of herculean strength, his occupation developing the muscular power of his arms, which told with such terrible effect when he drove the knives into the bodies of Lord Cavendish and his secretary T. H. Burke.”

Kilmainham Gaol contains the graves of the Invincibles convicted and executed for the Phoenix park stabbings.


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Birth of Sculptor Jerome Connor

jerome-connorJerome Connor, recognized world-class Irish sculptor, is born on February 23, 1874 in Coumduff, Annascaul, County Kerry.

In 1888, Connor emigrates to Holyoke, Massachusetts. His father is a stonemason, which leads to Connor’s jobs in New York as a sign painter, stonecutter, bronze founder and machinist. Inspired by his father’s work and his own experience, he would steal his father’s chisels as a child and carve figures into rocks.

It is believed Connor possibly assisted in the manufacture of bronzes such as the Civil War monument in Town Green in South Hadley, Massachusetts erected in 1896 and The Court of Neptune Fountain at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., completed in 1898.

Connor joins the Roycroft arts community in 1899 where he assists with blacksmithing and later starts creating terracotta busts and reliefs. Eventually he is recognized as Roycroft’s sculptor-in-residence.

After four years at Roycroft, Connor then works with Gustav Stickley and becomes well known as a sculptor being commissioned to create civic commissions in bronze for placement in Washington, D.C., Syracuse, East Aurora, New York, San Francisco, and in his native Ireland. In 1910, he establishes his own studio in Washington, D.C. From 1902 until his death, he produces scores of designs ranging from small portrait heads to relief panels to large civic commissions realized in bronze.

Connor is a self-taught artist who is highly regarded in the United States where most of his public works can be seen. He appears to be heavily influenced by the work of Irish American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He uses the human figure to give expression to emotions, values and ideals. Many of the commissions he receives are for civic memorials and secular figures which he casts in bronze, a pronounced departure from the Irish tradition of stone carved, church sponsored works.

Connor’s best known work is Nuns of the Battlefield located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue NW, M Street and Connecticut Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. It serves as a tribute to the over six hundreds nuns who nursed soldiers of both armies during the American Civil War, and is one of two monuments in the District that represent women’s roles in the Civil War. The sculpture is authorized by the United States Congress on March 29, 1918 with the agreement that the government will not fund it. The Ancient Order of Hibernians raises $50,000 for the project and Connor is selected since he focuses on Irish Catholic themes, being one himself. Connor, however, ends up suing the Order for nonpayment.

Connor works in the United States until 1925 at which time he moves to Dublin and opens his own studio but suffers from lack of financial support and patrons. In 1926 he is contacted by Roycroft and asked to design and cast a statue of Elbert Hubbard who, with his wife Alice, had died in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. It is unveiled in 1930 and today stands on the lawn of East Aurora’s Middle School across the street from the Roycroft Chapel building.

While working on the Hubbard statue, Connor receives a commission to create a memorial for all the RMS Lusitania victims. It is to be erected in Cobh, County Cork where many of the victims are buried. The project is initiated by the New York Memorial Committee, headed by William Henry Vanderbilt whose father, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, perished on the RMS Lusitania. He dies before the memorial is completed and based on Connor’s design its installation falls to another Irish artist.

Jerome Connor dies on August 21, 1943 of heart failure and reputably in poverty. There is a now a “Jerome Connor Place” in Dublin and around the corner there is a plaque in his honour on Infirmary Road, overlooking Dublin’s Phoenix Park, his favourite place.


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Birth of Sculptor John Hughes

john-hughesJohn Hughes, Irish sculptor, is born in Dublin on January 30, 1865.

Hughes is educated at North Richmond Street CBS. He enters the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1878 and trains as a part-time student for ten years. In 1890 he wins a scholarship to the South Kensington School of Art in London, after which another scholarship takes him to Paris, France. He then studies further in Italy.

Hughes is appointed as teacher to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1894 and in 1902 becomes Professor of Sculpture in the Royal Hibernian Academy School. His last residence in Dublin is at 28 Lennox Street, Portobello.

From 1903 Hughes lives in Italy and in France, dying in Nice in 1941.

Hughes’s influences are mainly from the Italian Renaissance and include:


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Founding of the Irish Women’s Franchise League

irish-womens-franchise-leagueThe Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL), an organisation for women’s suffrage, is established in Dublin on November 4, 1908. Its founder members include Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James H. Cousins. Thomas MacDonagh is also a member. The IWFL has 1,000 members by 1912 but only about fifty of these are active.

In the early 20th century, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond and his deputy John Dillon is opposed to votes for women, as is the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith.

In June 1912, after a meeting of a number of women’s organisations, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins with six other members of the IWFL smash government windows in the General Post Office (GPO) and other government buildings. They are arrested, charged, and jailed. The following month Asquith makes a visit to Dublin to address a meeting in the Theatre Royal. Frank Sheehy-Skeffington manages to gain entrance and demands votes for women before being thrown out. Meanwhile Asquith’s carriage is attacked by British suffragists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans. In that attack John Redmond is injured. Leigh and Evans go on hunger strike in Mountjoy Gaol, and are joined by the imprisoned Irish IWFL members in solidarity.

In March 1913 a bust of John Redmond in the Royal Hibernian Academy is defaced by a suffragist protesting against the failure of the Irish Parliamentary Party to support a Women’s Franchise Bill in the House of Commons. In contrast, as a mark of solidarity with the women, James Connolly travels from Belfast to Dublin to speak at one of the IWFL’s weekly meetings which is held in the Phoenix Park, and members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) provide protection and offer escorts to women as they leave the meetings.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. While in jail she starts a hunger strike but is released under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act 1913 and is soon rearrested.

The league keeps a neutral stance on Home Rule, but is opposed to World War I. After the killing of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington by a British officer in 1916, it supports Sinn Féin.

The Irish Women’s Franchise League publishes a paper, The Irish Citizen, from 1912 to 1920. The paper is edited originally by James H. Cousins.


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Birth of Michael Cusack, Founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, is born to Irish speaking parents on September 20, 1847 in the parish of Carran on the eastern fringe of the Burren, County Clare during the Great Famine.

Cusack becomes a national school teacher, and after teaching in various parts of Ireland becomes a professor in 1874 at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own Civil Service Academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also “reputed” to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Conradh na Gaeilge who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that Nally’s views on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics are the same as his. He recalls how both Nally and himself while walking through the Phoenix Park in Dublin seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depressed them that they agreed it was time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to ‘artisans’ in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack, together with Maurice Davin of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, call a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and found the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke (May 28, 1824 – July 22, 1902), Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin at the age of 59 on November 27, 1906.


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.


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Douglas Hyde Inaugurated First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar from County Roscommon, is inaugurated as the first President of Ireland on June 25, 1938.

Hyde is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State‘s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. He is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. He sets a precedent by reciting the Presidential Declaration of Office in Irish. His recitation, in Roscommon Irish, is one of a few recordings of a dialect of which Hyde is one of the last speakers. Upon inauguration, he moves into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, since known as Áras an Uachtaráin.

Hyde’s selection and inauguration receive worldwide media attention and is covered by newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Egypt. Adolf Hitler “orders” the Berlin newspapers “to splash” on the Irish presidential installation ceremony. However, the British government ignores the event. The Northern Ireland Finance Minister, John Miller Andrews, described Hyde’s inauguration as a “slight on the King” and “a deplorable tragedy.”

Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office.

In April 1940 Hyde suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.