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


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Birth of James Shields, U.S. Politician & Army Officer

james-shieldsJames Shields, Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, is born in Altmore, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland, on May 10, 1806. He is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states. He represents Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.

Born and initially educated in Ireland, Shields emigrates to the United States in 1826. He is briefly a sailor and spends time in Quebec before settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he studies and practices law. In 1836, he is elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and later as State Auditor. His work as auditor is criticized by a young Abraham Lincoln, who with his then fiancée, Mary Todd, publishes a series of inflammatory pseudonymous letters in a local paper. Shields challenges Lincoln to a duel, and the two nearly fight on September 22, 1842, before making peace and eventually becoming friends.

In 1845, Shields is appointed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, from which he resigns to become Commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. At the outbreak of the Mexican–American War, he leaves the Land Office to take an appointment as brigadier general of volunteers. He serves with distinction and is twice wounded.

In 1848, Shields is appointed to and confirmed by the Senate as the first governor of the Oregon Territory, which he declines. After serving as Senator from Illinois, he moves to Minnesota and there founds the town of Shieldsville. He is then elected as Senator from Minnesota. He serves in the American Civil War and, at the Battle of Kernstown, his troops inflict the only tactical defeat of Stonewall Jackson in the war. He resigns his commission shortly thereafter. After moving multiple times, he settles in Missouri, and serves again for three months in the Senate.

Shields dies unexpectedly in Ottumwa, Iowa on June 1, 1879, while on a lecture tour, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. His body is transferred to Carrollton, Missouri by train, where a funeral is held at the Catholic church, and his body escorted to St. Mary’s Cemetery by two companies of the Nineteenth Infantry, the Craig Rifles, and a twenty-piece brass band. His grave remains unmarked for 30 years, until the local government and the U.S. Congress fund a granite and bronze monument there in his honor.

A bronze statue of Shields is given by the State of Illinois to the United States Capitol in 1893 and represents the state in the National Statuary Hall. The statue is sculpted by Leonard Volk, and dedicated in December 1893. Statues of Shields also stand in front of the Carroll County Court House in Carrollton, Missouri and on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.

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Andrew Lewis Appointed Brigadier General of the Continental Army

andrew-lewis-statueIrish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army on March 1, 1776. He is most famous for his 1774 victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War. He also helps found Liberty Hall, later Washington and Lee University, when it is made into a college in 1776.

Lewis is born in County Donegal to Colonel John Lewis and his wife Margaret Lynn. In 1732 John Lewis, having killed his landlord in an altercation, flees to Virginia with his sons Andrew and Thomas. They become among the first settlers in western Augusta County.

Lewis receives a basic education and learns the skills of a surveyor. He spends at least fifteen years farming and working as a surveyor in southwestern Virginia. He also serves as county lieutenant and later captain in the Augusta County militia.

Early in the 1740s Lewis marries Elizabeth Givens, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Cathey) Givens, formerly of County Antrim. They establish their own home, called Richfield, in what later becomes Roanoke County near Salem.

The Virginia frontier becomes a battleground in the French and Indian War, as do the frontiers of the more northerly colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia organizes a militia to defend settlers subject to attacks by Indians upset at encroachments into their territories. Lewis becomes a captain in George Washington‘s regiment. However, after the loss at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, Washington is forced to surrender to the French. Lewis retreats across the Appalachian Mountains.

Washington proposes a series of frontier fortifications to protect settlers east of the Appalachians. Lewis initially serves to build Fort Dinwiddie on the Jackson River of present-day Bath County and is relieved of his command September 21, 1755. The Virginia assembly approves Lewis’ promotion to major and assigns him to oversee the region along the Greenbrier River. On February 18, 1756, he leads the Big Sandy expedition from Fort Frederick with a mixed force of militiamen and Cherokees to raid the Shawnee towns along the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers to retaliate for Shawnee attacks. He leads several expeditions against both Indian settlements and French outposts. During the Forbes Expedition, he is captured during Major James Grant‘s attack on Fort Duquesne during the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Taken to Quebec, he remains a prisoner until late 1759.

Upon the formation of Botetourt County from Augusta County in 1769, Lewis is elected to the House of Burgesses and reelected several times until 1780, though the American Revolution precludes much attendance in later years.

When the American Revolution begins, Governor Dunmore suspends Virginia’s legislature. The Whigs form a provisional congress, which includes both Lewis and his brother Thomas as delegates. When the Continental Congress creates a Continental Army in 1775 and makes George Washington its commander, he asks that Lewis be made a brigadier general. However, initially the Continental Congress had decided there should be only one general from each state, and Charles Lee is the first Virginian commissioned as Brigadier General.

On March 1, 1776, Lewis becomes a brigadier general, overseeing Virginia’s defense and raising men for the Continental Army. Virginia’s Committee of Safety calls on Lewis to stop Governor Dunmore’s raids along the coast from his last stronghold, a fortified position on Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay. On July 9, 1776 he leads Virginia’s forces which capture the island as Lord Dunmore escapes by sea, sailing to the Caribbean, never to return.

On April 15, 1777, Lewis resigns his commission, alleging poor health. However, he also faces discontent among his men and the army as a whole. Moreover, he is bypassed when promotions are announced for Major General in early 1777. George Washington, in need of every able officer, expresses his disappointment to Lewis.

Lewis remains active in the legislature, and in 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appoints him to the Executive Council. The following year, he falls ill while returning home from a council meeting. He dies of fever in Bedford County on September 26, 1781. He is buried in the family plot at his home. His gravesite is not marked. Colonel Elijah McClanahan, who marries Lewis’ granddaughter, Agatha Lewis McClanahan, attended his funeral as a young man, and later identifies his grave to Roanoke County’s Clerk of the Court. In 1887 General Lewis’ remains are re-interred in the East Hill Cemetery at Salem, Virginia.

(Pictured: Statue of General Andrew Lewis outside the Salem Civic Center)


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Birth of Father Michael Joseph McGivney

michael-joseph-mcgivneyMichael Joseph McGivney, American Catholic priest, is born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary (Lynch) McGivney on August 12, 1852 in Waterbury, Connecticut. He founds the Knights of Columbus at a local parish to serve as a mutual aid and fraternal insurance organization, particularly for immigrants and their families. It develops through the 20th century as the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.

McGivney attends the local Waterbury district school but leaves at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of one of the area brass mills. In 1868, at the age of 16, he enters the Séminaire de Saint-Hyacinthe in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. He continues his studies at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, near Niagara Falls, New York (1871–1872) and at the Jesuits‘ St. Mary’s College, in Montreal, Quebec. He has to leave the seminary, returning home, to help finish raising his siblings after the death of his father in June 1873. He later resumes his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Baltimore, Maryland. He is ordained a priest on December 22, 1877, by Archbishop James Gibbons at the Baltimore Cathedral of the Assumption.

From his own experience, McGivney recognizes the devastating effect on immigrant families of the untimely death of the father and wage earner. Many Catholics are still struggling to assimilate into the American economy. On March 29, 1882, while an assistant pastor at Saint Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, he founds the Knights of Columbus, with a small group of parishioners, as a mutual aid society to provide financial assistance in the event of the men’s death to their widows and orphans. The organization develops as a fraternal society. He is also known for his tireless work among his parishioners.

Father Michael Joseph McGivney dies from pneumonia at the age of 38 on August 14, 1890, the eve of the Assumption, in Thomaston, Connecticut.

The Knights of Columbus is among the first groups to recruit blood donors, with formal efforts dating to 1937 during the Great Depression. As of 2013, the order has more than 1.8 million member families and 15,000 councils. During the 2012 fraternal year, $167 million and 70 million man-hours are donated to charity by the order.

In 1996, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford opens the cause for canonization, an investigation into McGivney’s life with a view towards formal recognition by the Church of his sainthood. Father Gabriel O’Donnell, OP, is the postulator of McGivney’s cause. He is also the director of the Fr. McGivney Guild, which now has 150,000 members supporting his cause.

The diocesan investigation is closed in 2000 and the case is passed to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Vatican City. On March 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approves a decree recognizing McGivney’s heroic virtue, thus declaring him “Venerable.” As of August 6, 2013, a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession is under investigation at the Vatican.


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Birth of Irish Author Mary Anne Sadlier

mary-anne-sadlierMary Anne Sadlier, Irish author, is born Mary Anne Madden in Cootehill, County Cavan, on December 30, 1820.

Sadlier publishes roughly sixty novels and numerous stories in her lifetime. She writes for Irish immigrants in both the United States and Canada, encouraging them to attend mass and retain the Catholic faith. In so doing, Sadlier also addresses the related themes of anti-Catholicism, the Great Famine, emigration, and domestic work. Her writings are often found under the name Mrs. J. Sadlier.

Upon the death of her father, Francis, a merchant, Mary Madden emigrates to Sainte-Marthe, Quebec in 1844, where she marries publisher James Sadlier, also from Ireland, on November 24, 1846. Sadlier publishes much of her work in the family’s Catholic magazine, The Tablet. Sadlier experiences her most productive literary period after her marriage and is most creative after the time all of her children are born. While living in Canada, Sadlier publishes eighteen books — five novels, one collection of short stories, a religious catechism, and nine translations from the French — in addition to assorted magazine articles she contributes to the Pilot and American Celt free of charge. In New Lights (1853), Sadlier deals with the Great Famine for the first time. The book proves one of her most popular, going through at least eight editions in fifty years. In this novel, Sadlier focuses a polemical attack on the Protestant practice of converting Irish peasants by promising them soup, but condemns peasant retaliation and violence.

In the early 1860s, the couple moves to New York City. The Sadlier’s New York home becomes the hub of literary activity in the Catholic community, and Sadlier also enjoys the company of the brightest Irish writers in the United States and Canada, including New York Archbishop John Hughes, editor Orestes Brownson, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. She holds weekly salons in her Manhattan home, as well as her summer home on Far Rockaway on Long Island. Her closest friend is D’Arcy McGee, a poet, Irish nationalist exile and Canadian statesman known as one of the founding “Fathers of Confederation” who helps bring about Canada’s independence. McGee and Sadlier share an interest in a “national poetry” that does not only capture the spirit of a people, but inspires them to political and national independence. While McGee, as a man, can take part in political rallies and organize Irish American support for Home Rule, Sadlier, as a woman, directs her support for Irish independence into literature. McGee’s biographer notes that Sadlier’s success inspires him to write emigrant novels, and is planning a novel on this subject at the time of his assassination by an Irish American radical in 1868. His death is a crushing blow to Sadlier and her husband. Sadlier edits a collection of McGee’s poetry in 1869 in tribute to his memory.

Sadlier remains in New York for nine years before returning to Canada, where she dies in Montreal on April 5, 1903. In later years she loses the copyright to all her earlier works, many of which remain in print. One of Mary Anne’s daughters, Anna Theresa Sadlier, also becomes a writer.


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The Jeanie Johnston Begins 4-Month Voyage Around Ireland

jeanie-johnstonThe Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a three-masted barque that was originally built in 1847 in Quebec, Canada, by the Scottish-born shipbuilder John Munn, begins a four-month voyage around Ireland on June 9, 2004.

The original Jeanie Johnston makes her maiden emigrant voyage on April 24, 1848, from Blennerville, County Kerry to Quebec with 193 emigrants on board who are fleeing the effects of the Great Famine that is ravaging Ireland. Between 1848 and 1855, the Jeanie Johnston makes sixteen voyages to North America, sailing to Quebec, Baltimore, and New York. Ships that transport emigrants out of Ireland during this period become known as “famine ships” or “coffin ships.”

The project to build a replica is conceived in the late 1980s, but does not become a reality until November 1993 when a feasibility study is completed. In May 1995, The Jeanie Johnston (Ireland) Company Ltd. is incorporated. The ship is designed by Fred Walker, former Chief Naval Architect with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

The original plans are to launch the ship from her shipyard in Blennerville, but a 19th-century shipwreck is discovered by marine archaeologists while a channel is being dredged. To preserve the find, on April 19, 2000 the hull of the Jeanie Johnston is hauled to the shore and loaded onto a shallow-draft barge. There she is fitted with masts and sails, and on May 4 is transported to Fenit, a short distance away. On May 6 the barge is submerged and the Jeanie Johnston takes to the water for the first time. The next day she is officially christened by President Mary McAleese.

In 2003, the replica Jeanie Johnston sails from Tralee to Canada and the United States visiting 32 U.S. and Canadian cities and attracting over 100,000 visitors.

The replica is currently owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority who bought it in 2005 for a reported 2.7 million Euro, which were used to clear outstanding loans on the vessel guaranteed by Tralee Town Council and Kerry County Council. It is docked at Custom House Quay in the centre of Dublin.