seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Charlie McCreevy, Fianna Fáil Politician

Charles McCreevy, former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Sallins, County Kildare, on September 30, 1949. He serves as European Commissioner for Internal Market from 2004 to 2010, Minister for Finance from 1997 to 2004, Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communication from 1993 to 1994 and Minister for Social Welfare from 1992 to 1993. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Kildare constituency (and later the Kildare North constituency) from 1977 to 2004.

McCreevy is educated locally at Naas by the Congregation of Christian Brothers, and later at the fee paying Franciscan Gormanston College. He studies Commerce at University College Dublin and goes on to become a chartered accountant. His family background is modest, his father and ancestors since the late 18th century are lock-keepers on the Grand Canal, a job carried on by his mother after the death of his father, when McCreevy is four years old.

McCreevy’s political career begins with when he wins a seat in the Kildare constituency at the 1977 Irish general election, which is a landslide for Charles Haughey‘s supporters in Fianna Fáil and he is re-elected at every subsequent election until he joins the European Commission. Between 1979 and 1985, he serves as an elected member of the Kildare County Council.

In the 1979 Fianna Fáil leadership election, McCreevy strongly supports the controversial Charles Haughey, who narrowly wins the post. However, in a time of severe budgetary difficulties for Ireland, he soon becomes disillusioned with the new Taoiseach and his fiscal policies. In October 1982, he launches a motion of no-confidence in the party leader, which evolves into a leadership challenge by Desmond O’Malley. In an open ballot and supported by only 21 of his 79 colleagues, the motion fails and McCreevy is temporarily expelled from the parliamentary party.

In later years O’Malley is expelled from Fianna Fáil itself and forms the Progressive Democrats (PDs), espousing conservative fiscal policies. Although considered ideologically close to the PDs, and a personal friend of its erstwhile leader, Mary Harney, McCreevy chooses to remain a member of Fianna Fáil, where he eventually serves in joint FF-PD Governments.

For his first 15 years as TD, while Haughey remains leader, McCreevy remains a backbencher. In 1992, Albert Reynolds becomes Taoiseach and McCreevy is appointed Minister for Social Welfare. In this role, he is principally remembered for a set of 12 cost-cutting measures, collectively termed the “dirty dozen”, which are arguably minor in their direct impact but provide a major political headache for his party in the 1992 Irish general election.

In 1993, McCreevy becomes Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communication, which he holds until the government falls in December 1994. In opposition under new Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, he is appointed Opposition Spokesperson for Finance. In this role he is viewed as actively pro-enterprise, anti-spending and a key advocate for tax cuts.

In 1997, Fianna Fáil returns to power and McCreevy becomes Minister for Finance. His period coincides with the era of the “Celtic Tiger,” which sees the rapid growth of the Irish economy due to social partnership between employers, government and unions, increased female participation in the labour force, decades of tuition-free secondary education, targeting of foreign direct investment, a low corporation tax rate, an English-speaking workforce only five time-zones from New York City, and membership of the European Union – which provides payments for infrastructural development, export access to the European Single Market and a Eurozone country. He is a consistent advocate of cutting taxes and spending.

In 2004, McCreevy is selected by the Government of Ireland to replace David Byrne as Ireland’s European Commissioner. He is appointed to the Internal Market and Services portfolio, by President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. At his confirmation hearings in the European Parliament MEPs describe him as “fluent and relaxed.” He also informs them that he has campaigned for the ratification of every European Treaty since 1972.

In October 2007, McCreevy, commenting on the Northern Rock bank’s loss of investor confidence, claims that banking regulations in the UK, which forces banks to be open to scrutiny from outside investors, caused the panic. He says if access to the banks dealings had been restricted, then the trouble could have been avoided.

Irish constitutional law requires a referendum to alter the constitution for such a major change as the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon. Interviewed beforehand, McCreevy says that he has not read the Treaty in full himself, though he understands and endorses it. The referendum is held on June 12, 2008 and the Irish electorate does not approve the Treaty. He is heavily criticised in the European Parliament and by the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who demands on June 17, 2008, that McCreevy be removed as a European Commissioner. Schulz slightly misquotes McCreevy, whom he stated had contributed to Ireland’s rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon with remarks during the referendum campaign that no “sane person” would read the document.

Following McCreevy’s departure from the commission, he is forced to resign from the board of a new banking firm, NBNK Investments, after an EU ethics committee finds a conflict of interest with his work as a European Commissioner in charge of financial regulation.


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The Trial & Conviction of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Theobald Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen, is tried and convicted of treason by a court-martial in Dublin on November 10, 1798 and sentenced to be hanged.

When the Irish Rebellion of 1798 breaks out in Ireland, Wolfe Tone urges the French Directory to send effective assistance to the Irish rebels. All that can be promised is a number of raids to descend simultaneously around the Irish coast. One of these raids under General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert succeeds in landing a force near Killala, County Mayo, and gains some success in Connacht (particularly at Castlebar) before it is subdued by General Gerard Lake and Charles Cornwallis. Wolfe Tone’s brother Matthew is captured, tried by court-martial and hanged. A second raid, accompanied by James Napper Tandy, comes to a disastrous end on the coast of County Donegal.

Wolfe Tone takes part in a third raid, under Admiral Jean-Baptiste-François Bompart, with General Jean Hardy in command of a force of 2,800 men. He certainly knows before departing that the odds against them are incredibly long. Most of the United Irish organization has already spent itself in Wexford, Ulster, and other places. There is one slim reed of hope for success – the news from Hubert, who is sweeping the British before him in Mayo with his 1,000 Frenchmen and Irish rebel allies. Wolfe Tone once said he would accompany any French force to Ireland even if it were only a corporal’s guard, so he sails off with Hardy’s Frenchmen aboard the Hoche.

They are intercepted by a large British fleet at Buncrana on Lough Swilly on October 12, 1798. Escape aboard one of the small, fast ships is Wolfe Tone’s only hope to avoid a hangman’s noose but he refuses to transfer from the large, slow Hoche, which has little choice but certain sinking or capture. He refuses offers by Napoleon Bonaparte and other French officers of escape in a frigate before the Battle of Tory Island. “Shall it be said,” he asks them, “that I fled while the French were fighting the battle of my country?”

The Hoche withstands an attack by five British ships for several hours, with Wolfe Tone commanding one of her batteries. Inevitably the masts and rigging of the Hoche are shot away and she strikes her colors. Wolfe Tone is dressed in a French adjutant general‘s uniform, but there is little chance of him avoiding detection with so many former acquaintances among the British. He is thrown into chains taken prisoner when the Hoche surrenders.

When the prisoners are landed at Letterkenny Port a fortnight later, Sir George Hill recognises Wolfe Tone in the French adjutant general’s uniform in Lord Cavan’s privy-quarters at Letterkenny. At his trial by court-martial in Dublin on November 8, 1798, Wolfe Tone makes a speech avowing his determined hostility to England and his intention “by frank and open war to procure the separation of the countries.” Recognising that the court is certain to convict him, he asks that “the court should adjudge me to die the death of a soldier, and that I may be shot.” His request to be shot is denied.

On November 10, 1798, Wolfe Tone is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Before this sentence is carried out, either he attempts suicide by slitting his throat or British soldiers torture and mortally wound him. Military surgeon Benjamin Lentaigne treats him just hours before he is due to be hanged. The story goes that he is initially saved when the wound is sealed with a bandage, and he is told if he tries to talk the wound will open and he will bleed to death.

A pamphlet published in Latin by Dr. Lentaigne some years after Wolfe Tone’s official “suicide” refers to an unusual neck wound suffered by an unnamed patient which indicates that “a bullet passed through his throat.” This leads to speculation that Wolfe Tone may have been shot.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown Graveyard in County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.

(Pictured: “Capture Of Wolfe Tone Date 1798,” a drawing by Mary Evans Picture Library, the UK’s leading source for historical images)


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Final Barge Journey on the Grand Canal

barge-51mThe last barge on the Grand Canal makes its final journey to Limerick on May 27, 1960 carrying a cargo of Guinness. The impressive broad-beamed barge carrying the number 51M casts off from Dublin‘s James Street Harbour marking the end of a way of life on the canal which has existed since the construction of the waterway in the early 1800s.

For some 160 years freight barges ply the canal bringing cargoes to and from Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and canal-side villages across the midlands from Sallins to Shannon Harbour. The spine of the waterways system is the Grand Canal which crosses mid-Kildare in a southwest direction from Hazelhatch to west of Ticknevin.

Typically a crew of four men live on the boats on voyages which can take up to four days from Dublin to Limerick. The crew is comprised of the Master or skipper, the Engineman, Deck man and Greaser. Although a seemingly idyllic job the boatmen worked hard in all weather, sometimes sailing through the night.

The canal cargo business is always under pressure from the railways but tonnages of bulk goods (barrels of porter, turf, coal, sand, gravel, and grain and flour) where speed is not important remain high. Competition from the motor lorry in the 1920s and 1930s causes tonnages to fall severely. The canals get a brief respite during the Emergency years (1939-45) when they are pressed into service to transport turf from the Bog of Allen to Dublin city where it is stored in massive clamps at Phoenix Park.

As part of a rationalisation in the post-war decades, the Government brings out the shareholders of the Grand Canal Company and amalgamates its operations with Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), a newly formed semi-state entity with a mandate to take over all transport services in Ireland. CIÉ has enough on its hands trying to keep the railway system viable and it is clear that the days of canal freight are numbered. In November 1959 CIÉ announces that the Grand Canal will close to cargo boats on December 31 of that year.

The Guinness brewery asks for a stay of a few months so it can complete alternative arrangements for road deliveries. The definitive final voyage from Dublin begins on the afternoon of May 27, 1960 when 51M casts off at James Street Harbour bound for the Guinness depot in Limerick.

51M escapes the wrecker’s torch and is kept in service though a succession of canal authorities as a maintenance boat for the canals. In May 2010, fifty years after it carried the last commercial cargo from Dublin to Limerick, the canal boat 51M retraces its historic journey, once again carrying a number of original Guinness casks as its cargo.


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The Sallins Train Robbery

The Sallins Train robbery occurs on March 31, 1976 when the Cork to Dublin mail train is robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £200,000 is stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Mick Plunkett, and John Fitzpatrick, are arrested in connection with the robbery.

After the failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” against them, the four are released but are immediately re-arrested. During interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett sign alleged confessions, presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claim are inflicted by members of the Gardaí.

While awaiting trial, Fitzpatrick jumps bail and leaves the country. The trial of McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court becomes the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapses due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court.

Medical evidence of beatings is presented to the court, both during the initial trial and the second trial. The court rejects this evidence, finding that the beatings have been self-inflicted or inflicted by the co-accused. Anticipating a conviction, Kelly flees before the conclusion of the second trial. The three are found guilty, solely on the basis of their confessions, and sentenced to between nine and twelve years in prison. Kelly is sentenced in absentia.

In May 1980, Breatnach and McNally are acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken under duress. The same month, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility for the robbery. Kelly returns to Ireland from the United States in June 1980, expecting to be acquitted. Instead he is incarcerated in the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison and spends the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a 38-day period on hunger strike.

After a campaign by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and others and a song, Wicklow Boy, by the popular folk singer Christy Moore, Kelly is eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984. He is given a presidential pardon in 1992 and receives £1,000,000 in compensation. Breatnach and McNally are also given compensation.


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Birth of Theobald Wolfe Tone

theobald-wolfe-toneTheobald Wolfe Tone, posthumously known as Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the United Irishmen, is born on June 20, 1763, in Dublin. He is regarded as the father of Irish republicanism and leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

The son of a coach maker, Tone studies law and is called to the Irish bar in 1789 but soon gives up his practice. In October 1791 he helps found the Society of United Irishmen, initially a predominantly Protestant organization that works for parliamentary reforms, such as universal suffrage and Roman Catholic emancipation. In Dublin in 1792 he organizes a Roman Catholic convention of elected delegates that force Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. Tone himself, however, is anticlerical and hopes for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to the attainment of Irish political freedom.

By 1794, he and his United Irishmen friends begin to seek armed aid from Revolutionary France to help overthrow English rule. After an initial effort fails, Tone goes to the United States and obtains letters of introduction from the French minister at Philadelphia to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris. In February 1796 Tone arrives in the French capital, presents his plan for a French invasion of Ireland, and is favourably received. The Directory then appoints one of the most brilliant young French generals, Lazare Hoche, to command the expedition and makes Tone an adjutant in the French army.

On December 16, 1796, Tone sails from Brest with 43 ships and nearly 14,000 men. The ships are badly handled and, after reaching the coast of west Cork and Kerry, are dispersed by a storm. Tone again brings an Irish invasion plan to Paris in October 1797, but the principal French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, takes little interest. When insurrection breaks out in Ireland in May 1798, Tone can only obtain enough French forces to make small raids on different parts of the Irish coast. In September he enters Lough Swilly, County Donegal, with 3,000 men and is captured there.

At his trial in Dublin on November 10, 1798, he defiantly proclaims his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair and open war to produce the separation of the two countries.” He is found guilty and is sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Early in the morning of the day he is to be hanged, Tone cuts his throat with a penknife.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies of his self-inflicted wound on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown, County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.