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


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Birth of Januarius MacGahan, Journalist & Correspondent

januarius-macgahanJanuarius Aloysius MacGahan, American journalist and war correspondent for the New York Herald and The Daily News, is born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 creates public outrage in Europe, and are a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which leads to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

MacGahan’s father is an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena. He moves to St. Louis, where he briefly works as a teacher and as a journalist. There he meets his cousin, General Philip Sheridan, an American Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinces him to study law in Europe. He sails to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan does not get a law degree, but he discovers that he has a gift for languages, learning French and German. He runs short of money and is about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out. Sheridan happens to be an observer with the German Army, and he uses his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

MacGahan’s vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army win him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald are reprinted by European newspapers. When the war ends, he interviews French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo and, in March 1871, he hurries to Paris and is one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He is arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and is only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne.

In 1871 MacGahan is assigned as the Herald‘s correspondent to Saint Petersburg. He learns Russian, mingles with the Russian military and nobility, covers the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and meets his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he marries in 1873. In 1874 he spends ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War.

In 1876 MacGahan quarrels with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and leaves the newspaper. He is invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. He obtains a commission from The Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and leaves for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.

MacGahan reports that the Turkish soldiers have forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church is burned and survivors tortured to learn where they have hidden their treasures. He says that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survive. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria are destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred. These reports, published first in The Daily News, and then in other papers, cause widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tries to minimize the massacres and says that the Bulgarians are equally to blame, but his arguments are refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepare to invade the Ottoman Empire, and declare war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appeals for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responds that it can not intervene “because of the state of public feeling.”

MacGahan is assigned as a war correspondent for The Daily News and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rides with the first units of the Russian Army as it crosses the Danube into Bulgaria. He covers all the major battles of the Russo–Turkish War, including the Siege of Plevna and the Battle of Shipka Pass. He reports on the final defeat of the Turkish armies and is present at the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ends the war.

MacGahan is in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determines the final borders of Bulgaria, when he catches typhoid fever. He dies on June 9, 1878, and is buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Skobelev. Five years later his body is returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington and a statue is erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian Americans.

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Birth of John Gubbins, Racehorse Breeder & Owner

john-gubbinsJohn Gubbins, breeder and owner of racehorses, is born on December 16, 1838 at the family home in Kilfrush, County Limerick. He is fourth son of Joseph Gubbins by his wife Maria, daughter of Thomas Wise of Cork.

Of three surviving brothers and five sisters, the third brother, Stamer, breeds horses at Knockany after distinguishing himself in the Crimean War. He dies at the age of 46 on August 7, 1879, after a horse falls on him while “schooling” over fences.

John Gubbins, after being educated privately, inherits the Knockany property from his brother and purchases the estate of Bruree, County Limerick. A fortune is also left him by an uncle, Francis Wise of Cork. Settling at Bruree in 1868, he builds kennels and stables and purchases horses and hounds. He hunts the Limerick country with both stag and fox hounds, and is no mean angler, until forced to stop by the operations of the Land League in 1882.

From his youth he takes a keen interest in horse racing. At first his attention is mainly confined to steeplechasers, and he rides many winners at Punchestown Racecourse and elsewhere in Ireland. He is the owner of Seaman when the horse wins the grand hurdle race at Auteuil, but sells him to Lord Manners before he wins the Grand National at Liverpool in 1882. Usna is another fine chaser in his possession. Buying the stallions Kendal and St. Florian, he breeds, from the mare Morganette, Galtee More by the former and Ard Patrick by the latter. Galtee More wins the 2000 Guineas Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes as well as the Epsom Derby in 1897, and is afterwards sold to the Russian government who later pass him on to the Prussian government. The Prussian government also purchases Ard Patrick just days before he wins the Eclipse Stakes in 1903, when he defeats Sceptre and Rook Sand after an exceptionally exciting contest.

Other notable horses bred by John Gubbins are Blairfinde, winner of the Irish Derby, and Revenue. In 1897 he heads the list of winning owners and is third in the list in 1903. In 1903 Gubbins is rarely seen on a racecourse due to failing health and sells his horses in training. In 1905, however, his health apparently improving, he sends some yearlings to Cranborne, Dorset, to be trained by Sir Charles Nugent, but before these horses can run he dies of bronchitis at Bruree on March 20, 1906.  His final instructions are, “As I aspired to breed fast horses, please see that my hearse is pulled at speed on my final journey.” Gubbins is buried in the private burial ground at Kilfrush.

In 1889 he marries Edith, daughter of Charles Legh, of Addington Hall, Cheshire. She predeceases him without issue. His estates pass to his nephew, John Norris Browning, a retired naval surgeon.