seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Margaret Hassan, Irish-born Aid Worker in Iraq

Margaret Hassan, Irish-born aid worker also known as “Madam Margaret,” is born Margaret Fitzsimons in Dalkey, County Dublin on April 18, 1945. She works in Iraq for many years until she is abducted and murdered by unidentified kidnappers in Iraq in 2004. Her remains have never been recovered.

Soon after the end of World War II Hassan’s family moves to London, where she spends most of her early life and where her younger siblings are born. At the age of 27, she marries Tahseen Ali Hassan, a 29-year-old Iraqi studying engineering in the United Kingdom. She moves to Iraq with him in 1972, where she begins work with the British Council of Baghdad, teaching English. Eventually she learns Arabic and becomes an Iraqi citizen.

During the early 1980s, Hassan becomes the assistant director of studies at the British Council, later becoming director. Meanwhile, her husband works as an economist. She remains in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, although the British Council suspends operations in Iraq, and she is left jobless at the end of it.

Hassan joins humanitarian relief organisation CARE International in 1991. Sanitation, health, and nutrition become major concerns in the sanctioned Iraq. She is crucially involved in bringing leukemia medicine to child cancer victims in Iraq in 1998. She becomes a vocal critic of the United Nations restrictions. She is opposed to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that the Iraqis are already “living through a terrible emergency. They do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.”

By 2004, Hassan is head of Iraqi operations for CARE. Well known in many of Baghdad’s slums and other cities, she is especially interested in Iraq’s young people, whom she calls “the lost generation.” Her presence draws large crowds of locals.

Hassan is kidnapped in Baghdad on October 19, 2004, and is killed some weeks later on November 8. In a video released of her in captivity she pleads for help and begs British Prime Minister Tony Blair to remove British troops from Iraq. She adds that she does not “want to die like Mr. Bigley,” a reference to Kenneth Bigley, who had been executed in Iraq only weeks earlier.

Patients of an Iraqi hospital take to the streets in protest against the hostage takers’ actions. On October 25, between 100 and 200 Iraqis protest outside CARE’s offices in Baghdad, demanding her release. Prominent elements of the Iraqi insurgency and Iraqi political figures condemn the kidnapping and call for her release. On November 2, Al Jazeera reports that the kidnappers threatened to hand her over to the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and who is responsible for the execution of Bigley. On November 6, a statement purportedly from al-Zarqawi appears on an Islamist website calling for the release of Hassan unless the kidnappers have information she is aligned with the invading coalition. The statement cannot be authenticated and Hassan’s whereabouts in the video are unknown.

On 15 November, U.S. Marines in Fallujah uncover the body of an unidentified blonde- or grey-haired woman with her legs and arms cut off and throat slit. The body cannot be immediately identified, but is thought unlikely to be Hassan, who has brown hair. There is one other western woman known missing in Iraq at the time the body is discovered, Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish-born long-time Iraqi resident. Khalifa is released by her hostage takers on November 20.

On November 16, CNN reports that CARE has issued a statement indicating that the organisation is aware of a videotape showing Hassan’s execution. Al-Jazeera reports that it has received a tape showing Hassan’s murder but is unable to confirm its authenticity. The video shows Hassan being shot with a handgun by a masked man. It is not known who is responsible for Hassan’s abduction and murder. The group holding her never identifies itself in the hostage videos.

She remains a Roman Catholic throughout her life and never converts to Islam as is widely reported after her death. A Requiem Mass is held for her, after her death is confirmed, at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

CARE International suspends operations in Iraq because of Hassan’s kidnapping. At least eight other women kidnapped by insurgents during the conflict are released unharmed by their captors. It is unclear why Hassan, who was opposed to the war, lived in Iraq for many years, held Iraqi citizenship, was married to an Arab Muslim and spoke fluent Arabic was killed.

On May 1, 2005, three men are questioned by Iraqi police in connection with the murder. On June 5, 2006, news reports emerge that an Iraqi man by the name of Mustafa Salman al-Jubouri has been sentenced to life imprisonment for “aiding and abetting the kidnappers” but two other men are acquitted. Al-Jubouri appeals this sentence and is given a shorter imprisonment.

An Iraqi man named Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, also known as Abu Rasha, an architect from Baghdad, is arrested by Iraqi and U.S. forces in 2008 after contacting the British Embassy in Baghdad and attempting to extort 1 million dollars in return for disclosing the location of Hassan’s body. Though Jassar signs statements confessing to the charges, he pleads not guilty, stating he was forced to sign them after receiving beatings and electrical shocks during questioning.

On June 2, 2009, the Press Association reports that Jassar is given a life sentence by Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court for being involved in Hassan’s abduction and murder, and for attempting to blackmail the British Embassy. Hassan’s family welcomes the court’s decision but pleads with Jassar to tell them where her body is so they can return her to Britain for burial. On July 14, 2010, a day before Jassar is due to appear in court for retrial, it is reported that he could not be located in the prison facility where he was being held. He had been missing for a month.


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Death of John Robert Gregg, Inventor of Gregg Shorthand

John Robert Gregg, educator, publisher, humanitarian, and the inventor of the eponymous shorthand system Gregg shorthand, dies in Cannondale, Connecticut on February 23, 1948.

Gregg is born on June 17, 1867 in Shantonagh, County Westmeath, as the youngest child of Robert and Margaret Gregg, where they remain until 1872, when they move to Rockcorry, County Monaghan. He enters the village school in Rockcorry in 1872. On his second day of class, he is caught whispering to a schoolmate, which prompts the schoolmaster to hit the two children’s heads together. This incident profoundly damages his hearing for the rest of his life, rendering him unable to participate fully in school, unable to understand his teacher. This ultimately leads to him being unnecessarily perceived as dull or mentally challenged by his peers, teachers, and family.

In 1877, after seeing a friend use Pitman shorthand to take verbatim notes of a preacher’s sermon, Robert Gregg sees the shorthand skill as a powerful asset, so he makes it mandatory for his children to learn Pitman shorthand, with the exception of John, who is considered by his family too “simple” to learn it. None of the children succeed in fully learning the system. On his own, John learns the shorthand system of Samuel Taylor. He teaches himself the system fully, since he does not require the ability to hear in order to learn from the book.

Gregg says he initially set out to improve the English adaptation by John Matthew Sloan of the French Duployan shorthand, while working with one of Sloan’s sales agents, Thomas Malone. Malone publishes a system called Script Phonography, of which Gregg asserts a share in authorship is owed to him. Angered by Malone, he resigns from working with him and, encouraged by his older brother Samuel, publishes and copyrights his own system of shorthand in 1888. It is put forth in a brochure entitled Light-Line Phonography: The Phonetic Handwriting which he publishes in Liverpool, England.

In 1893, Gregg emigrates to the United States. That year he publishes Gregg shorthand with great success. He settles in Chicago in 1895 and by 1896 dozens of American public schools are teaching Gregg shorthand. The first Gregg Shorthand Association is formed in Chicago that year with 40 members. In 1897 the Gregg Publishing Company is formed to publish shorthand textbooks.

By 1907 Gregg is so successful that he opens an office in New York and then moves there. The popularity of his shorthand system continues to grow with it being taught in 533 school systems by 1912. In 1914 the New York City Board of Education approves the experimental introduction of Gregg shorthand into its high schools, where the Pitman system had long held sway. That same year the system is admitted to Columbia University (New York) and the University of California, Berkeley.

After World War I, Gregg travels extensively throughout Great Britain, hoping to popularize his system there. He is not quite as successful in this endeavor as he had been in America, but he sees Gregg shorthand become wildly popular in France, Germany, Poland, Spain, and especially Latin America, where for years Gregg’s birthday is a national holiday.

Following his wife’s death in 1928 Gregg returns to New York. He throws himself into volunteer work and continues to perfect the Gregg system. Over the next several years he is the recipient of several honorary degrees from American educational institutions. At one such ceremony in June 1930 he renews his acquaintance with Janet Kinley, daughter of the president of the University of Illinois. The two are married in October of that year. They purchase a home in Cannondale, a historic section of Wilton, Connecticut.

In the 1930s Gregg begins writing a history of shorthand, the subject that had been his lifelong obsession. The first chapter is printed in 1933 and successive chapters follow at intervals until 1936. He devotes time to charitable work and institutes scholarships in the arts and in court reporting at his Chicago school. His voluntary work on behalf of Allied soldiers and British civilians during World War II wins recognition from King George VI, who awards him a medal for “Service in the Cause of Freedom” in 1947.

In December 1947 Gregg undergoes surgery from which he seems to recover well. However, on February 23, 1948, he suffers a heart attack and dies in Cannondale, Connecticut at the age of eighty.


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Birth of Martin Archer Shee, Portrait Painter

martin-archer-sheeSir Martin Archer Shee, portrait painter and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1769.

Shee is born into an old Irish Catholic family, the son of Martin Shee, a merchant, who regards the profession of a painter as an unsuitable occupation for a descendant of the Shees. He nevertheless studies art in the Royal Dublin Society and comes to London. There, in 1788, he is introduced by Edmund Burke to Joshua Reynolds, on whose advice he studies in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In 1789 Shee exhibits his first two pictures, the “Head of an Old Man” and “Portrait of a Gentleman.” Over the next ten years he steadily increases in practice. In 1798 he is chosen an associate of the Royal Academy and in 1800 he is elected a Royal Academician. He moves to George Romney‘s former house at 32 Cavendish Square and sets up as his successor.

Shee continues to paint with great readiness of hand and fertility of invention, although his portraits are eclipsed by more than one of his contemporaries, and especially by Thomas Lawrence. His earlier portraits are carefully finished, easy in action, with good drawing and excellent discrimination of character. They show an undue tendency to redness in the flesh painting, a defect which is still more apparent in his later works, in which the handling is less square, crisp and forcible. In addition to his portraits, he executes various subjects and historical works, such as Lavinia, Belisarius, his diploma picture “Prospero and Miranda,” and the “Daughter of Jephthah.”

In 1805 Shee publishes a poem consisting of Rhymes on Art, and a second part follows in 1809. Lord Byron speaks well of it in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He publishes another small volume of verse in 1814, entitled The Commemoration of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other Poems, but this is less successful. He also produces a tragedy, Alasco, set in Poland. The play is accepted at Covent Garden, but is refused a licence, on the grounds that it contains treasonable allusions, and Shee angrily resolves to make his appeal to the public. He carries out his threat in 1824, but Alasco is still on the list of unacted dramas in 1911. He also publishes two novels – Oldcourt (1829, in three volumes) and Cecil Hyde (1834).

On the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1830, Shee is chosen president of the Royal Academy in his stead and shortly afterwards receives a knighthood. In 1831 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In an examination before the parliamentary committee of 1836 concerning the functions of the Royal Academy, he ably defends its rights. He continues to paint until 1845, when illness makes him retire to Brighton. He is deputised for at the Academy by J. M. W. Turner, who had appointed him a trustee of the projected Turner almshouse.

From 1842–1849, Shee is the first president of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Martin Archer Shee dies in Brighton, Sussex, England on August 13, 1850 and is buried in the western extension to St. Nicholas’ Churchyard in Brighton. His headstone remains but has been laid flat and moved to the perimeter of the site.


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Birth of Academy Award Winning Actor Daniel Day-Lewis

Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis, English actor who holds both British and Irish citizenship, is born in Kensington, London, England, on April 29, 1957.

Day-Lewis is the son of poet Cecil Day-Lewis and English actress Jill Balcon. His father, who was born in Ballintubbert, County Laois, was of Protestant Anglo-Irish and English background, lived in England from the age of two, and later became the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. Day-Lewis’s mother was Jewish, and his maternal great-grandparents’ Jewish families emigrated to England from Latvia and Poland. His maternal grandfather, Sir Michael Balcon, was the head of Ealing Studios.

Growing up in London, he excels on stage at the National Youth Theatre, before being accepted at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which he attends for three years. Despite his traditional actor training at the Bristol Old Vic, he is considered to be a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. He often remains completely in character for the duration of the shooting schedules of his films, even to the point of adversely affecting his health. He is one of the most selective actors in the film industry, having starred in only five films since 1998, with as many as five years between roles. Protective of his private life, he rarely gives interviews and makes very few public appearances.

Day-Lewis shifts between theatre and film for most of the early 1980s, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company and playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before appearing in the 1984 film The Bounty. He stars in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), his first critically acclaimed role, and gains further public notice with A Room with a View (1985). He then assumes leading man status with The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).

One of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, Day-Lewis has earned numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performances in My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012), making him the only male actor in history to have three wins in the lead actor category and one of only three male actors to win three Oscars. He is also nominated in this category for In the Name of the Father (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002). He has also won four BAFTA Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. In November 2012, Time names Day-Lewis the “World’s Greatest Actor.”

In 2008, while receiving the Academy Award for Best Actor for There Will Be Blood from Helen Mirren, who presented the award, Day-Lewis kneels before her and she taps him on each shoulder with the Oscar statuette, to which he quips, “That’s the closest I’ll come to ever getting a knighthood.” In November 2014, Day-Lewis is formally knighted by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace for services to drama.

Day-Lewis and his wife, Rebecca Miller, have lived in Annamoe, County Wicklow since 1997.


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Death of Countess Constance Georgine Markievicz

markievicz-funeral-processionCountess Constance Georgine Markievicz, née Gore-Booth, Irish politician, revolutionary nationalist, and suffragette, dies on July 15, 1927 in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin, of complications related to appendicitis.

Constance Gore-Booth is born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and grows up at her family’s estate, Lissadell House, in County Sligo. Constance enrolls at London’s Slade School of Art in 1893. In the late 1890s she travels to Paris, where she meets Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz of Poland. They are married in 1900.

In 1903 the Markieviczes move to Dublin, where Constance’s interests soon turn from art to Irish politics. At age 40, in 1908, she embraces Irish nationalism, joining the revolutionary women’s group Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) and the Sinn Féin political party. The following year she forms Na Fianna Éireann (Soldiers of Ireland), a republican organization loosely based on the Boy Scouts, in which young boys are trained to be nationalist soldiers.

In 1911 she is arrested for demonstrating against King George V’s visit to Ireland. This is just the first of several arrests and imprisonments for Markievicz, whose political activism results in jail time intermittently for the remainder of her life. In 1913–14 she provides food for workers and their families during a labour dispute in which thousands of people are locked out of their workplaces for refusing to reject union membership.

In April 1916 Markievicz takes part in the Easter Rising, the republican insurrection in Dublin against British government in Ireland. After the general surrender, she is arrested and imprisoned. Though many women participate in the uprising, Markievicz is the only one to be court-martialed. She is sentenced to death, but the sentence is commuted to a lifetime of penal servitude on account of her gender. The following year, under a general amnesty, Markievicz is released, but soon finds herself back in jail for supposed participation in a plot against the British government. In December 1918, while still carrying out a prison sentence, Markievicz is elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Dublin’s St. Patrick’s division. Along with the other members of Sinn Féin, she refuses to swear an oath of allegiance to the king and, thus, does not take her seat. Instead, under the leadership of Éamon de Valera, the Irish republicans set up their own provisional government, Dáil Éireann.

After her release from prison, Markievicz serves in the first Dáil Éireann as the minister of labour, a post she holds from 1919 until she is defeated in the 1922 elections. That same year the Irish Free State is established, and Dáil Éireann is incorporated as the lower house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). Markievicz is elected to the Dáil in the 1923 general election but, along with the other members of Sinn Féin, she again refuses to swear allegiance to the king and does not take her seat. Instead, she devotes herself to charity work. Markievicz joins de Valera’s Fianna Fáil party on its founding in 1926 and is again elected to the Dáil in 1927, but dies a month later without having taken her seat.

Refused a state funeral by the Free State government, Markievicz is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, and de Valera gives the funeral oration.