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


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Birth of Hugh O’Brien, 31st Mayor of Boston

hugh-obrienHugh O’Brien, the mayor of Boston from 1884-1888, is born in Ireland on July 13, 1827. He is notable as Boston’s first Irish-born mayor, immigrating to the United States in the early 1830s. He is the editor of the Shipping and Commercial List and serves as a Boston alderman from 1875-1883.

O’Brien moves with his family to Boston when he is five years old, well before the potato famine sends waves of impoverished Irish men and women to Boston. He spends seven years in the Boston public schools and is apprenticed to a printer at the age of 12.

Working first for the newspaper Boston Courier and then for a Boston printer, O’Brien excels at the printing business, making foreman when he is only fifteen. He starts his own publication, Shipping and Commercial List, and is soon successful enough to become a respected member of the Boston business elite.

O’Brien’s business success draws the attention of Patrick Maguire, publisher of The Republic newspaper and the unofficial head of Irish politics in Boston. He orchestrates O’Brien’s election to the city’s Board of Alderman.

Boston has long been controlled by native-born Protestants, generally called “Yankees,” most of whom have a stereotypical view of Irish immigrants as poor, ignorant, undisciplined, and under the thumb of the Catholic Church. But the Irish-born population of Boston is exploding, making up over 40% of the city’s population by 1885.

By 1883, Maguire decides that the time has come for Boston to elect an Irish-born mayor. He devises a two-part strategy. O’Brien will be the public face of the campaign, an able public official who criticizes the previous administration for increasing taxes. O’Brien’s pledge to reduce the tax rate without cutting city services appeals to the Yankee tradition of frugality. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Maguire develops a system of Irish ward bosses who visit each household in the neighborhood and make sure that every eligible Irishman votes for O’Brien. O’Brien sweeps 15 of Boston’s 25 wards and, on December 10, 1884, becomes the first Irish Catholic to be elected Mayor of Boston. He is sworn in on January 5, 1885.

O’Brien surprises the opposition by governing the city in a conservative and honest way during his four terms in office. He cuts tax rates as promised. He also widens streets, establishes the commission that hires Frederick Law Olmsted to design the Emerald Necklace park system, and builds the new Boston Public Library in Copley Square. He disarms his critics by enlisting Yankee and Republican businessmen to serve on the committees overseeing these projects.

Hugh O’Brien dies on August 1, 1895 and is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Birth of Forrest Reid, Novelist & Critic

forrest-reidForrest Reid, novelist, literary critic and translator, is born in Belfast on June 24, 1875. He is, along with Hugh Walpole and J. M. Barrie, a leading pre-war novelist of boyhood. He is still acclaimed as the greatest of Ulster novelists and is recognised with the award of the 1944 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Young Tom.

Reid is the youngest son of a Protestant family of twelve, six of whom survive. His mother, his father’s second wife, comes from an aristocratic Shropshire family. Although proud of this ancestry, he finds the strict Protestant ethics of his immediate family constricting. He is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, after which he is initially apprenticed into the Belfast tea-trade before going to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he reads medieval and modern languages, and is influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster. His first book, The Kingdom of Twilight, is published in 1904. Following graduation in 1908, he returns to Belfast to pursue a writing career.

As well as his fiction, Reid also translates poems from the Greek Anthology. His study of the work of W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Study, has been acclaimed as one of the best critical studies of that poet. He also writes the definitive work on the English woodcut artists of the 1860s, Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). His collection of original illustrations from that time is housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Reid is a close friend of Walter de la Mare, whom he first meets in 1913, and about whose fiction he publishes a perceptive book in 1929. He is also an influence on novelist Stephen Gilbert, and has good connections to the Bloomsbury Group of writers. He is a founding member of the Imperial Art League (later the Artists League of Great Britain) and is also a close friend of Arthur Greeves, the artist known to be C. S. Lewis‘s best friend. Greeves paints several portraits of Reid, now all in the possession of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Reid publishes articles in many magazines, including Uladh, The Westminster Review and the Ulster Review, and he reviews books for The Manchester Guardian. Apostate, an autobiography, is published in 1926, and its sequel, Private Road, is published in 1940. He is a founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Forrest Reid dies on January 4, 1947 in Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Though Reid’s books are not necessarily well known today, he has been labelled “the first Ulster novelist of European stature,” and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness (1912), and James Joyce‘s seminal novel of growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914). Reid’s fiction, which often uses submerged narratives to explore male beauty and love, can be placed within the historical context of the emergence of a more explicit expression of homosexuality in English literature in the 20th century.

A ‘Forrest Reid Collection’ is held at the University of Exeter, consisting of first editions of all Reid’s works and books about him. Many of his original manuscripts are in the archives of the Belfast Central Library. In 2008, Queen’s University Belfast catalogues a large collection of Forrest Reid documentary material including many letters from E. M. Forster.

In 1952 Forster travels to Belfast to unveil a plaque commemorating Forrest Reid’s life at 13 Ormiston Crescent.


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Birth of Author Violet Florence Martin

violet-florence-martinViolet Florence Martin, Irish author, is born at Ross House in Connemara, County Galway on June 11, 1862. She is the co-author of a series of novels with cousin Edith Somerville under the pen name of Martin Ross in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Martin is the youngest of sixteen children of James Martin of Ross (1804–1872). The Martin family, a branch of the Martyn family – one of the Tribes of Galway – had settled at Ross by the early seventeenth century, having previously inhabited the town of Galway for some three hundred years. Her father is a Protestant, his grandfather having converted from the Catholic faith in order to retain the family estates under the Penal Laws. Nevertheless, each child of the family is secretly ‘baptised’ by the family servants.

Martin is a kinswoman of Richard Martin and her contemporary, Edward Martyn, two other notable members of the tribe. Her older brother, Robert Jasper Martin, is a noted songwriter and a well-regarded member of the Tory party in London. She shares a great-grandmother with the writer Maria Edgeworth, whose use of Irish vernacular speech she follows in her work.

Martin’s father manages to save both his estate and his tenants during the Great Famine boasting that not one of his people died during the disaster, but at the cost of bankruptcy. Following his death in 1872, the family moves to Dublin and only returns to Ross in 1888 following revelations of financial fraud of the estate by their agent.

Martin and Edith Somerville are second cousins. They originally meet on January 17, 1886 at Castletownshend, after which they become lifelong companions and literary partners. They come to share a home in Drishane, County Cork. In 1889, Violet adopts the pseudonym Martin Ross, which comprises her surname and the name of her ancestral home. Thus the authors are called Somerville and Ross. Their works include The Real Charlotte (1889), Some Reminiscences of an Irish R.M. and In The Vine Country.

Martin is a convinced Irish Unionist, in opposition to Somerville’s open nationalism. Both she and her brother Robert are well-regarded members of the literary circle in Irish unionism. However, unlike her brother, Martin is a convinced suffragette, becoming vice-president of the Munster Women’s Franchise League. While on friendly terms with the leading members of the Gaelic literary revival such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, she objects to their romantic version of Irish peasantry. She is on good terms with Edward Martyn, partner of Gregory and Yeats – and her kinsman – and shares his love of the Irish language and culture.

Martin is seriously injured in a riding accident in November 1898, from which she never fully recovers. This is a contributing factor to her death in Drishane, County Cork, on December 21, 1915. Edith Somerville continues to write under their joint literary names, claiming that they are still in contact. The two women leave thousands of letters and 116 volumes of diaries, detailing their lives, much of them yet unpublished. Edith dies at Castletownshend in October 1949, aged 91, and is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork.


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Death of Broadcaster Derek Davis

derek-davisIrish broadcaster Derek Davis dies in Dublin on May 13, 2015. On television, he co-hosts Live at 3, presents Davis at Large and Out of the Blue and wins Celebrity Bainisteoir.

Davis is born on April 26, 1948 in Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland to a Protestant father and a Roman Catholic mother. He attends St. MacNissi’s College, a Catholic boarding school in County Antrim and describes his early childhood life as ecumenical. During his childhood he acquires a love of boats which later provide the inspiration for the TV series Out of the Blue.

Davis starts as a news reporter with the American network ABC and BBC Northern Ireland before spending 11 years in the newsroom at RTÉ. In the early 1980s he becomes a newsreader for The Six-o-clock News and begins to become well-known due to his sometimes off-the-cuff comments on news stories.

Davis impersonates Big Tom on the RTÉ satirical programme Hall’s Pictorial Weekly and, as a result, is offered a part in a show-band in Cork. After a ballroom tour, he joins RTÉ proper in 1975, initially to work as a television news reporter, eventually becoming newsreader on the nine o’clock news. In the mid-1980s, he hosts his own talk show, Davis at Large. It is on this show, which is screened live, that he is attacked and hurled across the studio by a guest female body builder. In addition to this he has an interactive summer current affairs show, simply called Davis. In 1986, he begins co-hosting (with Thelma Mansfield) RTÉ 1’s afternoon programme Live at 3, a role he fills for eleven years.

Davis presents the Rose of Tralee twice in 1995 and 1996, the first of these when Gay Byrne is taken ill at short notice. He memorably thanks the providers of the air conditioning while wiping sweat from his brow. Live at 3 comes to an end in 1997. Davis returns to the screen in the late 1990s with a marine programme devoted to boats and the waters around Ireland called Out of the Blue, which runs for four series, the last of which is broadcast in 2001.

In 2000, Davis presents a radio quiz show called A Question of Food. During the summer season he takes over RTÉ Radio 1‘s mid-morning slot usually occupied by Today with Pat Kenny, and he also hosts the radio phone-in show, Liveline, when regular presenter Joe Duffy is on holiday. Later, he presents Sunday Magazine with Davis on 4 on 4fm.

In 2005, Davis hosts a show called Time on Their Hands, a travel series for older people. One of his last television appearances is on the second season of Celebrity Bainisteoir in 2009, in which he and seven other Irish celebrities manage an intermediate Gaelic football club team from their home county in an official GAA tournament. Davis’s team wins the tournament.

During the 2010s, Davis makes frequent guest appearances on TV3‘s Tonight with Vincent Browne, where he and another guest preview the following morning’s papers.

After a short illness Derek Davis dies on May 13, 2015 at the age of 67. His funeral takes place in the Victorian Chapel, Mount Jerome Cemetery & Crematorium in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.


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Death of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

tomas-o-fiaichRoman Catholic Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh and an ardent Irish nationalist, dies of cardiac arrest in a hospital at Toulouse, France at the age of 66 on May 8, 1990 after falling ill on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Lourdes is a Catholic shrine where a peasant girl reported a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Miraculous cures have been reported there.

Ó Fiaich is born Thomas Fee on November 3, 1923 in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, within sight of the border with the Republic of Ireland. He changes his name to the Gaelic form as his love of the Irish language and nationalist sentiments develop.

An announcement of the death, issued by the church’s press office in both Belfast and Dublin, says Ó Fiaich had appeared unwell to doctors accompanying the group of 600 pilgrims from his seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is admitted first to a hospital in Lourdes, then flown by helicopter to Toulouse. Philippe Giovanni, director of the Rangueil Hospital there, says the cardinal died of a brutal cardiac arrest soon after being admitted.

While calling for a unified Ireland and criticizing British policy in Northern Ireland, Ó Fiaich, whose name is pronounced O’Fee, also castigates the violence of the Irish Republican Army, the predominantly Catholic outlawed guerrilla army that seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is appointed spiritual leader of Ireland’s four million Catholics in in 1977. Two years later Pope John Paul II makes him one of the first cardinals of his papacy.

Tributes to Ó Fiaich poured in from some both sides of the Irish border. In Dublin, Taoiseach Charles Haughey says he is “devastated, … deeply grieved.” Britain’s top official in Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Peter Brooke, also expresses sadness. “We did not always agree about everything, but he treated me with the greatest possible courtesy, friendliness and warmth.”

However hardline Protestant leader Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party says Ó Fiaich is “the mallet of Rome against the Protestants of Northern Ireland.” He claims Ó Fiaich had “made an outrageous statement that the majority of bigotry in Ulster stemmed from the Protestant section of the community” and added, “He did not seem to realize that the IRA, which is carrying out the most atrocious of outrages … were the people who needed to be indicted with bigotry.”

In Belfast, Ulster Television suspends scheduled programs for an hour and airs a religious program and a news program about the cardinal.

Ó Fiaich retains close ties to Armagh, which had been dubbed “bandit country” because of the IRA activity. From the time he becomes primate, he speaks publicly of his wishes for a united Ireland. He visits IRA guerrillas in jail, calls the British Army’s fatal shooting of an Irish civilian murder, and says the border dividing Ireland is “unnatural.”

Following his death, Ó Fiaich lies in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects.

(From: AP News, apnews.com, May 8, 1990)


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The Dunmanway Killings

dunmanway-massacreThe Dunmanway killings, also known as the Dunmanway murders or the Dunmanway massacre, takes place in and around Dunmanway, County Cork between April 26-28, 1922. The event refers to the killing (and in some cases, disappearances) of thirteen Protestant men and boys.

The killings happen in a period of truce after the July 1921 end of the Irish War of Independence and before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in June 1922. All the dead and missing are Protestants, which has led to the killings being described as sectarian. Six are killed as purported British informants and loyalists, while four others are relatives killed in the absence of the target. Three other men are kidnapped and executed in Bandon as revenge for the killing of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer Michael O’Neill during an armed raid. One man is shot and survives his injuries.

On April 26, 1922, a group of anti-Treaty IRA men, led by Michael O’Neill, arrive at the house of Thomas Hornibrook, a former magistrate, at Ballygroman, East Muskerry, Desertmore, Bandon (near Ballincollig on the outskirts of Cork City), seeking to seize his car. Hornibrook is in the house at the time along with his son, Samuel, and his nephew, Herbert Woods, a former Captain in the British Army. O’Neill demands a part of the engine mechanism that had been removed by Hornibrook to prevent such theft. Hornibrook refuses to give them the part, and after further efforts, some of the IRA party enter through a window. Herbert Woods then shoots O’Neill, wounding him fatally. O’Neill’s companion, Charlie O’Donoghue, takes him to a local priest who pronounces him dead. The next morning O’Donoghue leaves for Bandon to report the incident to his superiors, returning with “four military men,” meeting with the Hornibrooks and Woods, who admit to shooting O’Neill.

It is not clear who orders the attacks or carries them out. However, in 2014 The Irish Times releases a confidential memo from the then-Director of Intelligence Colonel Michael Joe Costello (later managing director of the Irish Sugar Company) in September 1925 in relation to a pension claim by former IRA volunteer Daniel O’Neill of Enniskeane, County Cork, stating: “O’Neill is stated to be a very unscrupulous individual and to have taken part in such operations as lotting [looting] of Post Offices, robbing of Postmen and the murder of several Protestants in West Cork in May 1922. A brother of his was shot dead by two of the latter named, Woods and Hornbrooke [sic], who were subsequently murdered.”

Sinn Féin and IRA representatives, from both the pro-Treaty side, which controls the Provisional Government in Dublin and the anti-Treaty side, which controls the area the killings take place in, immediately condemn the killings.

The motivation of the killers remains unclear. It is generally agreed that they were provoked by the fatal shooting of O’Neill by Woods, whose house was being raided on April 26. Some historians have claimed there were sectarian motives; others claim that those killed were targeted only because they were suspected of having been informers during the Irish War of Independence, and argue that the dead were associated with the so-called “Murragh Loyalist Action Group,” and that their names may have appeared in captured British military intelligence files which listed “helpful citizens” during the war.

(Pictured: Herbert Woods, centre, whose decision to shoot sparks the massacre)


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The 1979 Bessbrook Bombing

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coalisland.jpgThe Bessbrook bombing takes place on the April 17, 1979 when four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explodes an estimated 1,000 pound roadside van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh.

The bombing occurs during a period of heightened IRA activity. The previous two years are some of the less active and less violent years during the Troubles. The British policy of criminalization seems to be working but the IRA is gearing up for a new offensive. In 1976, 295 people are killed compared with 111 in 1977 and 80 in 1978 but in 1979 the number increases to 120 with 76 being British security force members compared to just 34 in 1978. The entire IRA “battalion structure” has been reconstructed using more smaller, tight knit cells making the IRA more secretive, harder to infiltrate and makes them much more effective at carrying out larger operations. The only brigade area which does not go under this reconstruction is the South Armagh Brigade which is viewed by the IRA Army Council as an independent Republic. In fact, by the mid-1970s South Armagh has become so dangerous for the British security forces, who are snipped at and have bombs thrown at them whenever they enter the area on foot, they have to be airlifted into the area and ground patrols are stopped altogether effectively giving up the ground to the South Armagh PIRA.

While the four Protestant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are on an evening patrol, they are all killed when a Provisional IRA unit detonates a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The IRA unit detonates the well hidden bomb at the exact second the RUC mobile patrol is passing giving the officers no chance of survival. The dead RUC men are, Paul Gray (25), Robert Lockhart (44), Richard Baird (28) and Noel Webb (30). The bomb is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and is believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA up to that date.

In January 1981, Patrick Joseph Traynor (27) from Crossmaglen is found guilty of the four murders and a range of other charges. He is jailed for life on each of the four murder charges and is sentenced to 12 years for the related crimes.

The IRA continues to intensify their campaign. On August 29, 1979 the IRA carries out two separate attacks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that shock the world and give huge media coverage to their campaign. The first is the killing of Lord Mountbatten and his grandson when the boat they are on off the Sligo coast is blown up by a remote controlled bomb. The second is the Warrenpoint Ambush where the IRA kills 18 British soldiers in a double bomb attack, the highest loss of life for the British Army during the Troubles. The IRA carries out several of these type of large attacks against the British forces throughout the 1980s like the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack which kills four soldiers, the 1988 Lisburn van bombing which kills six soldiers and the Ballygawley bus bombing also carried out in 1988 which kills eight soldiers and injures 28.