seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Chartist Leader Feargus O’Connor

feargus-edward-o-connorFeargus Edward O’Connor, advocate of the Land Plan and prominent Chartist leader who succeeds in making Chartism the first specifically working class national movement in Great Britain, is born near Castletown-Kinneigh, County Cork on July 18, 1796.

O’Connor is born into a prominent Irish Protestant family who claims to be the descendants of the 12th-century king Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. He is educated mainly at Portarlington Grammar School and has some elementary schooling in England.

O’Connor practices law but exchanges law for politics when he enters the British Parliament in 1832 as a member for County Cork. Unseated in 1835, he turns to radical agitation in England, although he continues to press Irish grievances and to seek Irish support. As a result of his humour, invective, and energy, he becomes the best known Chartist leader and the movement’s most popular speaker. His journal, the Northern Star (founded in 1837), gains a wide circulation.

O’Connor’s methods and views alienate other Chartist leaders, particularly William Lovett, but in 1841, after spending a year in prison for seditious libel, he acquires undisputed leadership of the Chartists. Failing to lead the movement to victory and vacillating in his attitude toward the middle class and toward the People’s Charter, a six-point bill drafted and published in May 1838, he begins to lose power, although he is elected to Parliament for Nottingham in 1847. The failure of the People’s Charter in 1848 marks the beginning of the end for O’Connor, whose egocentricity is already bordering on madness.

The circulation of the Northern Star falls steadily and it loses money. O’Connor’s health is failing, and reports of his mental breakdown regularly appear in the newspapers. In the spring of 1852 he visits the United States, where his behaviour leaves no doubt that he is not a well man.

In 1852 in the House of Commons O’Connor strikes three fellow MPs, one of them Sir Benjamin Hall, a vocal critic of the Land Plan. Arrested by the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, he is sent by his sister to Dr. Thomas Harrington Tuke‘s private Manor House Asylum in Chiswick, where he remains until 1854, when he is moved to his sister’s house. He dies on August 30, 1855 at 18 Albert Terrace, Notting Hill Gate and is buried on September 10 in Kensal Green Cemetery. No fewer than 40,000 people witness the funeral procession. Most Chartists preferred to remember O’Connor’s strengths rather than his shortcomings.


Leave a comment

Birth of Benedict Kiely, Writer & Broadcaster

benedict-kielyBenedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children.

In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.


Leave a comment

Birth of Richard John Griffith, Author of Griffith’s Valuation

richard-john-griffithRichard John Griffith, Irish geologist, mining engineer, and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, is born in Hume Street, Dublin, on September 20, 1784. He completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and is author of the valuation of Ireland, known ever since as Griffith’s Valuation.

Griffith goes to school in Portarlington and later, while attending school in Rathangan, his school is attacked by the rebels during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He also studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1799 he obtains a commission in the Royal Irish Artillery, but a year later, when the corps is incorporated with that of England, he retires, and devotes his attention to civil engineering and mining. He studies chemistry, mineralogy, and mining for two years in London under William Nicholson and afterwards examines the mining districts in various parts of England, Wales, and Scotland.

While in Cornwall he discovers ores of nickel and cobalt in material that has been rejected as worthless. He completes his studies under Robert Jameson and others at Edinburgh, is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1807, a member of the newly established Geological Society of London in 1808, and in the same year he returns to Ireland.

In 1809, he is appointed by the commissioners to inquire into the nature and extent of the bogs in Ireland and the means of improving them. In 1812 he is elected Professor of Geology and Mining Engineer to the Royal Dublin Society. Shortly afterwards he expresses his intention of preparing a geological map of Ireland. During subsequent years he makes many surveys and issues many reports on mineral districts in Ireland. These form the foundation of his first geological map of the country in 1815. He also succeeds Dr. Richard Kirwan as government inspector of mines in Ireland. In 1822 Griffith becomes engineer of public works in Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, and is occupied until 1830 in repairing old roads and in laying out many miles of new roads in some of the most inaccessible parts of the country.

Meanwhile, in 1825, he is appointed by the government to carry out a boundary survey of Ireland. He is to mark the boundaries of every county, barony, civil parish, and townland in preparation for the first Ordnance Survey. He is also called upon to assist in the preparation of a parliamentary Bill to provide for the general valuation of Ireland, which passes in 1826. Griffith is appointed Commissioner of Valuation in 1827, but does not start work until 1830 when the new 6″ maps become available from the Ordnance survey and which he is required to use as provided for by statute. He continues to work on this until 1868. On Griffith’s valuation the various local and public assessments are made.

His extensive investigations furnish him with ample material for improving his geological map and the second edition is published in 1835. A third edition on a larger scale (1 in. to 4 m.) is issued under the Board of Ordnance in 1839 and it is further revised in 1855. For this great work and his other services to science Griffith is awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society in 1854. In 1850 he is made chairman of the Irish Board of Works and in 1858 he is created a baronet.

Griffith dies at the age of 95 at his residence in Dublin on September 22, 1878. At the time of his death, he is the oldest surviving fellow of the Geological Society of London and is the last survivor of the long-since disbanded Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. He is buried alongside his wife, Maria Jane, in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.