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


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John Kennedy’s Address to Oireachtas

jfk-address-to-oireachtasUnited States President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin on June 28, 1963, on the third day of his Irish visit. It follows a visit earlier in the day to Cork where he is greeted like a rock star.

Kennedy makes a surprising mistake when speaking to a packed Dáil Éireann about one of the most momentous days for the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Somehow, Kennedy gets his dates and geography mixed up when he says, “The 13th day of September, 1862, will be a day long remembered in American history. At Fredericksburg, Maryland, thousands of men fought and died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War.” The date of the Battle of Fredericksburg where so many Irish are slaughtered is December 13 rather than September 13 as Kennedy states. Also, Fredericksburg is in Virginia and not Maryland.

Kennedy is accompanied on this European trip, which includes the famous Ich bin ein Berliner, speech by his counselor and speech writer Ted Sorensen, a master wordsmith and fastidious researcher who seems to have erred in the writing of the speech. It is unlikely that Kennedy mispronounced “December” as the transcript of the speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum includes the incorrect dates. No one in Dáil Éireann appears to notice Kennedy’s error.

Aside from this mistake, the speech is uplifting and motivating to an Irish nation that is still young. Kennedy says:

“This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were – and I say: ‘Why not?’” ”

The complete audio version of Kennedy’s speech can be heard on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.

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Battle at Marye’s Heights

battle-of-fredericksburgIrish fight Irish in one of the bloodiest days in Irish military history at Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862 during the American Civil War. The Union Army’s Irish Brigade, the Fighting 69th, is decimated by the Confederate States Army during multiple efforts to take Marye’s Heights. In his official report Thomas Francis Meagher writes, “of the one thousand and two hundred I led into action, only two hundred and eighty appeared on parade next morning.”

The Battle of Fredericksburg, fought December 11-15, 1862, is one of the largest and deadliest of the war. It features the first major opposed river crossing in American military history. Union and Confederate troops fight in the streets of Fredericksburg, the war’s first urban combat. And with nearly 200,000 combatants, no other Civil War battle features a larger concentration of soldiers.

Major General Ambrose Burnside’s plan at Fredericksburg is to use the nearly 60,000 men in Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division to crush General Robert E. Lee’s southern flank on Prospect Hill while the rest of his army holds Lt. Gen. James Longstreet and the Confederate First Corps in position at Marye’s Heights.

The Union army’s main assault against Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson produces initial success and holds the promise of destroying the Confederate right, but lack of reinforcements and Jackson’s powerful counterattack stymies the effort. Both sides suffer heavy losses (totaling 9,000 in killed, wounded and missing) with no real change in the strategic situation.

In the meantime, Burnside’s “diversion” against veteran Confederate soldiers behind a stone wall produces a similar number of casualties but most of these are suffered by the Union troops. Wave after wave of Federal soldiers march forth to take the heights, but each is met with devastating rifle and artillery fire from the nearly impregnable Confederate positions.

As darkness falls on a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded, it is abundantly clear that a signal Confederate victory is at hand. The Army of the Potomac has suffered nearly 12,600 casualties, nearly two-thirds of them in front of Marye’s Heights. By comparison, Lee’s army has suffered some 5,300 losses. Lee, watching the great Confederate victory unfolding from his hilltop command post exclaims, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

Roughly six weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln removes Burnside from command of the Army of the Potomac.


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Signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

anglo-irish-agreementThe Anglo-Irish Agreement, an accord that gives the government of Ireland an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, is signed by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on November 15, 1985, at Hillsborough Castle in County Down, Northern Ireland. Considered one of the most significant developments in British-Irish relations since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the agreement provides for regular meetings between ministers in the Irish and British governments on matters affecting Northern Ireland. It outlines cooperation in four areas: political matters, security and related issues, legal matters, including the administration of justice, and the promotion of cross-border cooperation.

The agreement is negotiated as a move toward easing long-standing tension between Britain and Ireland on the subject of Northern Ireland, although Northern Irish unionists, who are in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom, are themselves strongly opposed to giving their southern neighbour a say in domestic matters. Many political leaders, including Thatcher, who has been strongly committed to British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, have come to believe that a solution to years of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by means of an all-Ireland arrangement.

Such an attempt had previously been made in 1973. A power-sharing executive, composed of Irish nationalists as well as unionists, was set up in Northern Ireland, and Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave participated in talks with British Prime Minister Edward Heath that resulted in the Sunningdale Agreement. That accord recognized that Northern Ireland’s relationship with Britain could not be changed without the agreement of a majority of its population, and it provided for the establishment of a Council of Ireland composed of members from both the Dáil Éireann (the lower chamber of the Oireachtas) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That agreement collapsed in May 1974 because of a general strike inspired by unionist opponents of power sharing.

In 1981 FitzGerald launches a constitutional crusade to make the reunification of Ireland more attractive to Northern Ireland’s Protestants. At the end of the year, the Irish and British governments set up an Anglo-Irish intergovernmental council to discuss matters of common concern, especially security. In 1984 the report of the New Ireland Forum, a discussion group that includes representatives of political parties in Ireland and Northern Ireland, sets out three possible frameworks for political development in Ireland: a unitary state, a federal state, and joint sovereignty. Of Ireland’s major political parties, Fianna Fáil prefers a unitary state, which Fine Gael and the Irish Labour Party regard as unrealistic. They prefer the federal option.

Also in the early 1980s, in Northern Ireland, John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and a member of the British Parliament, gathers the support of prominent Irish American political leaders in condemning the use of violence and urging Irish Americans not to support the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that often uses violent means to bring an end to British rule in Northern Ireland. Hume’s group also encourages United States President Ronald Reagan to persuade Thatcher to pursue closer relations with Ireland.

In the improved political climate between Britain and Ireland, leaders of the two countries sit down to negotiations. Ireland and Britain agree that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, and an intergovernmental conference is established to deal with political, security, and legal relations between the two parts of the island. The agreement is a blow to Northern Ireland’s unionists, because it establishes a consultative role for the government of Ireland in the affairs of Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and other unionists denounce the agreement, and UUP members of Parliament resign their seats over the issue, although 14 are returned in by-elections in 1986. The party organizes mass protests and boycotts of local councils and files a lawsuit challenging the legality of the agreement. However, these efforts, which are joined by the Democratic Unionist Party, fail to force abrogation of the agreement.

Contacts between the Irish and British governments continue after February 1987 within the formal structure of the intergovernmental conference. Fears that the violence in Northern Ireland would spill into Ireland as a consequence of closer Anglo-Irish cooperation in the wake of the agreement proves unfounded, and the UUP decides to participate in new negotiations on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland in 1990–93. After republican and unionist forces declare cease-fires in 1994, the UUP reluctantly joins discussions with the British and Irish governments and other political parties of Northern Ireland. No deal accepted by all sides is reached until the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, which creates the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions.

(From: “Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Lorraine Murray, Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com, November 12, 2010)


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The Forest of Dunbrody

forest-of-dunbrodyIn tribute to emigrants who sailed to the New World on coffin ships, Coillte, a state-sponsored company in Ireland, announces on October 29, 1998 plans for the establishment of a forest plantation, the Forest of Dunbrody, on the outskirts of New Ross, County Wexford. The public, and particularly Irish Americans, are invited to buy a tree in the name of their loved ones. A total of 25,000 trees are planted, comprising species such as ash, oak, larch and Douglas fir.

The purpose of the plantation is to replace timbers used in the construction of the Dunbrody, a 176-foot-long replica of the Famine emigrant ships which left Ireland in the 1840s. The ship, which weighs 458 tonnes, is the culmination of a two-year, £4 million project, the inspiration of the JFK Trust.

The ship is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody which operated out of New Ross, in all but its electrical and navigational equipment. It immediately proves to be a tourist attraction with over 30,000 visitors witnessing the traditional skills of 19th-century shipbuilding being carried out by a team of 30 trainees of Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS), the Irish National Training and Employment Authority, and an international team of shipwrights.

One of the trainee shipwrights, James Grennan, is a fourth cousin of the former President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Grennan is also one of the crew of the Dunbrody.

Coillte, which had up to this point already sponsored much of the timber for the project, decides to establish a plantation of the same name as the ship after members of the building crew express an interest and as a demonstration of wood as a renewable resource.

After years of tireless effort the Dunbrody is finally ready to launch. Early on the morning of February 11, 2001 the gates of the dry dock are opened and the Dunbrody floats to her lines, ready to take her pace at the Quay of New Ross. The launch ceremony is attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former United States Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.


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Bill Clinton Receives Honorary Doctorate at DCU

bill-clinton-receives-honorary-doctorate-dcuFormer United States president Bill Clinton is conferred with an honorary doctorate at Dublin City University on October 17, 2017 for his crucial role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

“It was really quite something, there’s never been any peace agreement exactly like it before,” says Clinton on the Good Friday Agreement. “It broke like a thunder cloud across the world and other people were fighting in other places and they had this talk to say ‘well really do I want to put our children’s generation through this? Or if they can pull this off after all those decades maybe we could too.’”

Clinton says universities should be a place for open discussion about if people should live in individual tribes, or as communities with shared values and respect for one another, especially in today’s political climate.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the success of the Northern Ireland peace process is in very many ways due to the fact that President Clinton took the view that it was a conflict that could be resolved by his personal input and by the power and influence of the United States of America,” said Gary Murphy, from the School of Law and Government in the president’s introductory citation.

“There can be little doubt that the conflict in Northern Ireland was ultimately resolved because that great beacon of liberty, the United States of America, decided that it could use its influence to make a vital difference. That fateful decision was taken in the Oval Office by President Bill Clinton.”

“There was no electoral gain for him taking it. If anything his initial forays into the Northern Ireland peace process were greeted with skepticism by both republicans and unionists in Northern Ireland and by downright distrust and suspicion in the corridors of power in London. But Bill Clinton persevered, and thanks to that perseverance we have peace in Ireland today.”

Also celebrated at the ceremony is Dr. Martin Naughton, KBE, founder of Glen Electric and one of Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. From humble roots in Newry, County Down he becomes the global leader in electric heating, and credits his success to his family ethos of honesty, morality, decency and integrity.

Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy is awarded the honorary doctorate for her longstanding work with the homeless and marginalised. She is the founder of Focus Ireland, which is now the largest voluntary organisation in Ireland, and has written many books on mindfulness and the importance of spirituality.

“As president I am often asked why DCU awards honorary doctorates, but Ireland has no national honours system, so it’s important that we recognise and honour outstanding achievements and role model individuals,” says Brian MacCraith.

(From The College View, http://www.thecollegeview.com, October 22, 2017)


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Death of U.S. President William McKinley

william-mckinleyWilliam McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, dies on September 14, 1901, eight days after being shot by anarchist Leon Czolgozc and six months into his second term. McKinley leads the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raises protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintains the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of free silver.

McKinley is born on January 29, 1843 in Niles, Ohio, the seventh child of William McKinley Sr. and Nancy (née Allison) McKinley. The McKinleys are of English and Scots-Irish descent and settled in western Pennsylvania in the 18th century, tracing back to a David McKinley who is born in Dervock, County Antrim, in present-day Northern Ireland.

McKinley is the last president to serve in the American Civil War and the only one to start the war as an enlisted soldier, beginning as a private in the Union Army and ending as a brevet major. After the war, he settles in Canton, Ohio, where he practices law and marries Ida Saxton. In 1876, he is elected to the United States Congress, where he becomes the Republican Party‘s expert on the protective tariff, which he promises will bring prosperity. His 1890 McKinley Tariff is highly controversial which, together with a Democratic redistricting aimed at gerrymandering him out of office, leads to his defeat in the Democratic landslide of 1890.

McKinley is elected Ohio’s governor in 1891 and 1893, steering a moderate course between capital and labor interests. With the aid of his close adviser Mark Hanna, he secures the Republican nomination for president in 1896, amid a deep economic depression. He defeats his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, after a front porch campaign in which he advocates “sound money” and promises that high tariffs will restore prosperity.

Rapid economic growth marks McKinley’s presidency. He promotes the 1897 Dingley Act to protect manufacturers and factory workers from foreign competition, and in 1900, he secures the passage of the Gold Standard Act. He hopes to persuade Spain to grant independence to rebellious Cuba without conflict, but when negotiation fails, he leads the nation into the Spanish–American War of 1898. The U.S. victory is quick and decisive. As part of the Treaty of Paris, Spain turns over to the United States its main overseas colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Cuba is promised independence, but at that time remains under the control of the U.S. Army. The United States annexes the independent Republic of Hawaii in 1898 and it became a U.S. territory.

Historians regard McKinley’s 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post–Civil War era gives way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which begins with the Progressive Era.

McKinley defeats Bryan again in the 1900 presidential election, in a campaign focused on imperialism, protectionism, and free silver. However, his legacy is suddenly cut short when he is shot on September 6, 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, a second-generation Polish American with anarchist leanings. McKinley dies eight days later on September 14, 1901, and is succeeded by his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt. He is buried at the McKinley National Memorial in Canton, Ohio.

As an innovator of American interventionism and pro-business sentiment, McKinley’s presidency is generally considered above average, though his highly positive public perception is soon overshadowed by Roosevelt.


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Death of Robin Williams, Actor & Comedian

robin-williamsRobin McLaurin Williams, American actor and comedian, is found dead in his home in Paradise Cay, California on August 11, 2014 in what is believed to be suicide via asphyxiation.

Williams is born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois on July 21, 1951, the son of Robert Fitzgerald Williams, an Irish American and a senior executive in Ford Motor Company‘s Lincoln-Mercury Division. He had English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, German, and French ancestry

He starts as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. He is credited with leading San Francisco’s comedy renaissance. After rising to fame as an alien called Mork in the TV sci-fi sitcom series Mork & Mindy, he establishes a career in both stand-up comedy and feature film acting. He is known for his improvisational skills.

After his first starring film role in Popeye (1980), Williams stars or co-stars in various films that achieve both critical acclaim and financial success, including Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), Aladdin (1992), The Birdcage (1996), and Good Will Hunting (1997). He also stars in widely acclaimed films such as The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), Awakenings (1990), The Fisher King (1991), One Hour Photo (2002), and World’s Greatest Dad (2009), as well as box office hits such as Hook (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995) and Night at the Museum (2006).

Williams wins the 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as psychologist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. He also receives two Primetime Emmy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Grammy Awards throughout his career.

On August 11, 2014, Williams commits suicide at his home in Paradise Cay, California, at the age of 63. His wife attributes his suicide to his struggle with diffuse Lewy body dementia. His body is cremated at Montes Chapel of the Hills in San Anselmo and his ashes are scattered in San Francisco Bay on August 21.

Williams’s death instantly becomes global news. The entertainment world, friends, and fans respond to his death through social and other media outlets. U.S. President Barack Obama said of Williams, “He was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”