seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Pat Gillen, Irish D-Day Survivor

pat-gillenFormer Commando Pat Gillen, one of the last surviving Irish D-Day veterans, dies at the age of 89 at his home in Cork, County Cork on December 27, 2014. He is among the first wave of troops to land on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

A rifleman in the 6 Commando unit charged with securing the strategically important Pegasus Bridge near Caen, Gillen is never injured despite making a six-mile trek through marshland from the beach to Caen and spending weeks in the trenches at Saulnier. More than half his brigade falls in the face of vicious fire from German forces.

On his return to Ireland, Gillen applies for a job as a male stenographer with Ford Motor Company in Cork, where the company’s first plant outside the United States employs thousands of workers in the 1930s. Having studied Pitman shorthand, typing and bookkeeping at school, he is called for an interview that includes a shorthand test in which the only word “I could just not get right was carburetor.”

Not alone does Gillen land the job with the U.S. car and tractor firm, he also meets Rita, the daughter of his B&B landlady, whom he marries two years later. Blessed with a lively sense of humour, he has a natural flair for getting on with people and is assigned to Ford’s public relations division.

Gillen’s ease when dealing with journalists is an attribute that serves him well during an 11-year spell as Ford’s press officer, especially in the turbulent times leading up to its decision to close the Cork manufacturing plant in 1984, when he also retires after 38 years with the company.

A witty, unassuming man, Gillen’s abiding interests are gardening, his twelve grandchildren, the FCA, and letter-writing to wartime comrades, a practice he keeps up until weeks before his death.

On December 8, 2014, just over two weeks before his death and surrounded by his family in an emotional ceremony at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Gillen is presented with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, in recognition of his courage and gallantry in the liberation of France. It is the highest French honour.

With characteristic generosity, Gillen dedicates the medal to fellow countrymen, including two cousins who fought in but did not survive World War II. “This award is as much theirs as mine,” he said. “By the grace of God, I survived to be here today while many of my friends sleep in the fields of France.”

At the time of his passing Gillen is surrounded by his family. Predeceased by Rita, he is survived by their four children, Robin, Mary, Patricia, and Gerard, his sister, Mary, and brothers Michael (“Chick”), Liam and Bobby. His sister Angela Scully also predeceases him.

(From: D-Day veteran who became Ford’s PR man in Cork, The Irish Times, January 17, 2015)


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Birth of Suffragist Winifred Carney

winifred-carneyMaria Winifred Carney, also known as Winnie Carney, suffragist, trade unionist and Irish independence activist, is born into a lower-middle class Catholic family in Bangor, County Down on December 4, 1887. Her father is a Protestant who leaves the family. Her mother and six siblings move to Falls Road in Belfast when she is a child.

Carney is educated at St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers School in Donegall Street in Belfast, later teaching at the school. She enrolls at Hughes Commercial Academy around 1910, where she qualifies as a secretary and shorthand typist, one of the first women in Belfast to do so. However, from the start she is looking towards doing more than just secretarial work.

In 1912 Carney is in charge of the women’s section of the Northern Ireland Textile Workers’ Union in Belfast, which she founds with Delia Larkin in 1912. During this period she meets James Connolly and becomes his personal secretary. She becomes Connolly’s friend and confidant as they work together to improve the conditions for female labourers in Belfast. Carney then joins Cumann na mBan, the women’s auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers, and attends its first meeting in 1914.

Carney is present with Connolly in Dublin‘s General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising in 1916. She is the only woman present during the initial occupation of the building. While not a combatant, she is given the rank of adjutant and is among the final group to leave the GPO. After Connolly is wounded, she refuses to leave his side despite direct orders from Patrick Pearse and Connolly. She leaves the GPO with the rest of the rebels when the building becomes engulfed in flames. They make their new headquarters in nearby Moore Street before Pearse surrenders.

After her capture, Carney is held in Kilmainham Gaol before being moved to Mountjoy Prison and finally to an English prison. By August 1916 she is imprisoned in HM Prison Aylesbury alongside Nell Ryan and Helena Molony. The three request that their internee status be revoked so that they could be held as normal prisoners with Countess Markievicz. Their request is denied, however Carney and Molony are released two days before Christmas 1916.

Carney is a delegate at the 1917 Belfast Cumann na mBan convention. She stands for Parliament as a Sinn Féin candidate for Belfast Victoria in the 1918 General Election but loses to the Labour Unionists. Following her defeat, she decides to continue her work at the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union until 1928. By 1924 she has become a member of the Labour Party. In the 1930s she joins the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

Following the Irish Civil War, Carney becomes much more disillusioned with politics. She is very critical and outspoken of Éamon de Valera and his governments.

In 1928 she marries George McBride, a Protestant Orangeman and former member of the Ulster Volunteers. Ironically, the formation of the Ulster Volunteers prompts the formation of the Irish Volunteers, of which Carney was a member. She alienates anyone in her life that does not support her marriage to McBride.

A number of serious health problems limit Carney’s political activities in the late 1930s. She dies in Belfast on November 21, 1943, and is buried in Milltown Cemetery. Her resting place is located years later and a headstone is erected by the National Graves Association, Belfast. Because she married a Protestant and former Orangeman, she is not allowed to have his name on her gravestone due to the religious differences.

In 2013, the Seventieth Anniversary of Carney’s death is remembered by the Socialist Republican Party. Almost one hundred people attend as a short parade follows, marking and commemorating the work she did for the cause. She is placed in high esteem among the other hundreds of radical women, who stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the consequences they face.


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Birth of John Robert Gregg, Inventor of Gregg Shorthand

john-robert-greggJohn Robert Gregg, educator, publisher, humanitarian, and the inventor of the eponymous shorthand system Gregg shorthand, is born in Shantonagh, County Monaghan on June 17, 1867.

Gregg is the youngest child of Robert and Margaret Gregg. They move to Rockcorry in 1872. Robert Gregg, who is of Scottish ancestry, is station-master at the Bushford railway station in Rockcorry. He and his wife raise their children as strict Presbyterians, and send their children to the village school in Rockcorry. On Gregg’s second day of class, he is caught whispering to a schoolmate, which prompts the schoolmaster to hit the two children’s heads together. This incident profoundly damages Gregg’s hearing for the rest of his life, rendering him unable to participate fully in school, unable to understand his teacher. This ultimately leads to him unnecessarily being perceived as dull or mentally challenged by his peers, teachers, and family.

In 1877, one of Robert Gregg’s friends, a journalist named Annesley, visits the village for a weekend. He is versed in Pitman Shorthand and takes verbatim notes of the sermon at the village church. This causes the preacher to sweat and stutter out of fear that his sermon, which he has plagiarized from a famous preacher, would be made public through Annesley’s notes. That day, Robert Gregg sees the shorthand skill as a powerful asset, so he makes it mandatory for his children to learn Pitman shorthand, with the exception of John, who is considered by his family too “simple” to learn it. None of the children succeed in fully learning the system. On his own, John Robert learns a different shorthand system, that of Samuel Taylor, published in a small book by Odell. He teaches himself the system fully since he does not require the ability to hear in order to learn from the book.

Due to hardships on the family, Gregg has to leave school before the age of 13 in order to support his family’s income. He works in a law office, earning five shillings a week.

Gregg professes he initially set out to improve the English adaptation by John Matthew Sloan of the French Prévost Duployan shorthand, while working with one of Sloan’s sales agents, Thomas Malone. Malone publishes a system called Script Phonography, of which Gregg asserts a share in authorship is owed to him. Angered by Malone, Gregg resigns from working with him and, encouraged by his older brother Samuel, publishes and copyrights his own system of shorthand in 1888. It is put forth in a brochure entitled Light-Line Phonography: The Phonetic Handwriting which he publishes in Liverpool, England.

In 1893, he emigrates to the United States, where he publishes in the same year Gregg Shorthand. The method meets with great success in the new country, and Gregg settles in Chicago where he authors numerous books for the Gregg Publishing Company on the subjects of shorthand and contemporary business practices.

John Robert Gregg dies in New York City, at the age of 80, on February 23, 1948.