seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of Charlotte Grace O’Brien, Philanthropist & Activist

Charlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist and an activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, dies on June 3, 1909. She is known also as a plant collector.

Born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick, O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters. Her father is William Smith O’Brien, the Irish nationalist and her mother is Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. On her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels, and stays there until he comes back to Cahirmoyle in 1856. On her mother’s death in 1861, she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864, O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, caring for his motherless children until his remarriage in 1880. Having been hard of hearing since childhood, by 1879 she has become entirely deaf. She goes to live at Ardanoir near Foynes on the River Shannon, and spends time writing. She becomes a staunch supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

A bad harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, causes many Irish people to emigrate to the United States. In articles and letters to newspapers and reviews, O’Brien exposes the awful conditions that exist in the Queenstown (Cobh) lodging houses, on board the emigrant ships, and in the dock slums of New York City, where the Irish have to stay upon landing. A notable piece she writes is the Horrors of the Immigrant Ship which appears in The Pall Mall Gazette on May 6, 1881.

A visit to Queenstown, the port of embarkation, and a tour of the White Star Line‘s Germanic leads her to successfully lobby to get a Catholic priest aboard the emigrant ship to help ease the passage, at least spiritually. That achievement captures even more public attention by virtue of the fact that O’Brien herself is Protestant. Despite the limit of 1,000 passengers, she notes the steamer has carried as many as 1,775 at one time.

O’Brien presses the Board of Trade for greater vigilance, and in April 1882, founds a 105-bed boarding house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating. The O’Brien Emigrants Home at The Beach, Queenstown fails because it is boycotted by other boardinghouse keepers and local merchants, forcing her to order provisions from Cork.

O’Brien also daily visits three or four of the ships for which her lodgers are destined along with a medical officer. She makes passages herself to America, using the occasion to investigate shipboard conditions and lobby for the reform and enforcement of health and safety standards.

O’Brien finds little effort to provide food, drink or accommodation at the Castle Garden entry facility. She also finds that often the illiterate young women are being tricked into prostitution through spurious offers of employment. Additionally, she notes the high infant mortality rates in the tenements where the women live. She proposes to Archbishop John Ireland of Minnesota an information bureau at Castle Garden, a temporary shelter to provide accommodation for immigrants and a chapel. Archbishop Ireland agrees to raise the matter at the May 1883 meeting of the Irish Catholic Association which endorses the plan and votes to establish an information bureau at Castle Garden. Ireland also contacts Cardinal John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, about providing a priest for immigrants arriving at Castle Garden.

The Mission opens on January 1, 1884 with Rev. John J. Riordan appointed as the first chaplain at Castle Garden. Immigrant girls needing accommodation are placed in local boarding houses until May 1 when a Home for Immigrant Girls is opened at 7 Broadway. In 1885, the James Watson House at 7 State Street is purchased from Isabella Wallace for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls to serve as a way station for young immigrant women. Between 1884 and 1890, the Mission provides assistance to 25,000 Irish immigrant women.

In 1881–82, O’Brien embarks on a campaigning lecture tour in the United States. She encounters problems, however, particularly given her Protestant background and the need to enlist support from Catholic clergy. Poor health, and her profound deafness cause her to curtail her activities in America. When she returns to Ireland in 1883, she finds herself suspected of being a British agent whose Emigrant Boarding house and whose plans for an American home for Irish immigrant girls facilitate the government’s assisted emigrant scheme. Supposedly, this would be the scheme that helps landlords clear their estates of poor tenants. In fact, O’Brien opposes assisted emigration, but she continues to assist those who are sent to her.

O’Brien retires from active public work in 1886, moving to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary. She spends considerable time in Dublin, where she socialises with Douglas Hyde and the painter William Osbourne. She joins the Roman Catholic Church in 1887. She dies of heart failure on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick.


2 Comments

Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


Leave a comment

First Aircraft Lands at Rineanna Airfield (Shannon Airport)

rineanna-airportThe first aircraft, an Irish Air Corps Aero Anson A43, lands at the newly opened Rineanna Airfield, which is later to become known as Shannon International Airport, on May 18, 1939.

Transatlantic aviation in the Shannon Estuary first commences with a seaplane base at Foynes. In October 1935, the Irish Government makes a decision to initiate a survey to find suitable bases for the operation of seaplanes and land planes on a transatlantic service. The Department of Defence, which provides technical advice on aviation to the Civil Aviation Section of the Department of Industry, is given the task.

On November 21, 1935, a survey party sets out and surveys sites as far north as Athlone and south to Askeaton. Among the sites for a seaplane base to be considered are the Shannon just below Limerick, Lough Derg, Lough Corrib, Tralee Bay, Kenmare Bay, Lough Ree, and Valentia. Foynes, near the mouth of the Fergus River, is finally selected due to its sheltered anchorage and its proximity to long open stretches of water.

The first priority is drainage to remove surface water from the site and to construct embankments to prevent flooding of the airfield due to its proximity to the tidal River Shannon. Several hundred men are employed to dig narrow lateral drains for the approximately 135 miles of pipes which are laid in parallel lines 50 feet apart over almost the entire area of the airfield site. They also excavate catchment drains to collect water from the surface of the site.

At this time all indications are that regular aerial travel between Europe and the United States will be initially by flying boat and accordingly, the base at Rineanna is designed to cater to both land planes and flying boats.  Construction work commences to build embankments and a breakwater to provide for a seaplane base and to protect the airfield site from flooding from the River Shannon.

Developments in aviation during World War I ensure land planes and not flying boats are to be the future of aviation, therefore the mooring basin and the east breakwater which are being constructed for flying boats at Rineanna are never quite finished.  Construction of the embankments continue to protect the site from the River Shannon and to form a drainage lagoon for surface water from the western headland of the airport site.

When World War II ends, the airport is ready to be used by the many new post-war commercial airlines of Europe and North America. On September 16, 1945, the first transatlantic proving flight, a Pan Am DC-4, lands at Shannon from New York City. On October 24, the first scheduled commercial flight, an American Overseas Airlines DC-4, passes through Shannon Airport. An accident involving President Airlines on September 10, 1961 results in the loss of 83 lives. The Douglas DC-6 aircraft crashes into the River Shannon while leaving Shannon Airport for Chicago.

The number of international carriers rises sharply in succeeding years as Shannon becomes well known as the gateway between Europe and the Americas as limited aircraft range necessitates refueling stops on many journeys. Shannon becomes the most convenient stopping point before and after a trip across the Atlantic. Additionally, during the Cold War, many transatlantic flights from the Soviet Union stop here for refueling, because Shannon is the westernmost non-NATO airport.

Shannon Airport is one of Ireland’s three primary airports, along with Dublin Airport and Cork Airport, and includes the longest runway in Ireland at 10,495 feet. It is a designated emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle during the U.S. shuttle program. In 2015, 1.715 million passengers pass through the airport, making it the third busiest airport in the country after Dublin and Cork. Shannon Airport is in Shannon, County Clare, and mainly serves Limerick, Ennis, Galway, and the south-west of Ireland.