seamus dubhghaill

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


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First Voluntary Smallpox Inoculations in Ireland

Five Dublin children receive the first voluntary smallpox inoculations in Ireland on August 26, 1725.

Smallpox is an acute and infectious disease caused by a virus. It is characterized by high fever and large sores on the body that leaves scars. The disease is estimated to have killed up to one-third of its victims. Those who are not killed are left with pock-marked skin or even blind. The name “smallpox” is coined in the 15th century to distinguish it from the “great pox,” better known as syphilis. However, smallpox’s history on earth is believed to date back thousands of years.

In 1980 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declares smallpox eradicated. After ten years and $300 million, used on a global vaccination program, the disease is gone. The last recorded death from this disease is in Somalia in 1977.

In Ireland, the spread of smallpox from the 1600s onward inspires dread. Ireland’s poverty and ignorance of infectious disease, at the time, sees typhoid and dysentery ravage communities. Between 1661 and 1746 smallpox is believed to be the cause of 20% of all deaths in Dublin and a third of all children deaths in the area. This highly infectious disease does not discriminate as the rich, as well as the poor, are badly affected.

By the 18th century, hope emerges and an inoculation technique is found. Since the 10th century, the Chinese had been inoculating people, by using a small dose of the disease. This technique does not arrive in Europe for almost 800 years. This technique is first tried on prisoners in Cork Jail in 1721, presumably against their will. Four years later five children in Dublin voluntarily receive the inoculation on August 26, 1725.

Over the years this technique shows its effectiveness. The rich begin to infest and inoculate their families. Throughout the 18th century, as the disease has periodic epidemics, the richer families are less affected. By the middle of the 18th century, the inoculation is in widespread use. The South Infirmary, in Cork, even initiates a program to inoculate the poor.

Sadly, of course, the unscrupulous see an opportunity to make money as people queue up to receive the treatment. In Donegal in 1781, all but one child of a group of 52 die when an unqualified practitioner supposedly inoculates the group.

While inroads are being made against smallpox, with the emergence of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845–49), the disease returns with a vengeance. This devastates even those who had found a way to make ends meet. Smallpox means that even if you survive the disease you will be unable to work for some time and many are pauperized by the lack of income and die eventually.

As Ireland emerges from the poverty and devastation of the Great Hunger, during the 1870s over 7,000 die in Ireland from the disease. It is only from the 1880s that smallpox becomes more earnestly eradicated in Ireland. By the 1910s the death rate is down to just 65 people. From 1901 to 1910 almost 1 million Irish are inoculated.

The last outbreak of smallpox in Ireland is in 1903. In Dublin, there are found to be 256 cases. Sadly elsewhere around the world even up to the 1960s smallpox is rampant, taking up to two million lives per year and leaving millions more disfigured and blind.

Thankfully by the 1980s, the WHO’s world vaccine program has done its work and now the world is free of this disease which plagued the earth for thousands of years.

(From: “On this day: In 1725 Dublin children received the first smallpox vaccination” by IrishCentral staff, http://www.irishcentral.com, August 26, 2020)


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Birth of Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic Missionary

Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic missionary of the Spiritan Fathers order, is born on April 26, 1932, in Limerick, County Limerick. He organizes food shipments from Ireland to the Igbo people during the Nigerian Civil War. His younger brother, Jack Finucane, also becomes a Holy Ghost priest, and a sister of theirs becomes a nun.

Finucane is educated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers until 1950. He joins the Holy Ghost Fathers in Kimmage Manor, and studies Philosophy, Theology and Education at University College Dublin. He is ordained in Clonliffe College in 1958.

Finucane contributes humanitarian aid during the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the “Nigerian-Biafran War”), from 1967 to 1970. The Nigerian government had blocked food supplies to the successionist state of Biafra causing starvation in the country. This is reported on international television stations and receives worldwide condemnation.

In an effort to save the population from starvation, Finucane organizes food to be sent through makeshift airstrips, including one at Uli, Bafaria, and cargo trips with other Dublin-based workers. This leads to the formation of the organisation Concern Worldwide in 1968. He works with Concern for 41 years and views his mission as “love in action.”

Finucane is banished from Nigeria in January 1970. Following this, he gains a diploma in development studies and a Master of Arts degree in Third World poverty studies from the Swansea University. In 1971, he is again giving food supplies to the population during the operations which are ongoing in Bangladesh and flies often with Mother Teresa during the drop-offs.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) invites Finucane to lead a survey of people displaced in Southeast Asia. During the 1980s and 1990s he leads Concern Worldwide, becoming involved in the response to famine in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. While in Somalia, he is in a convoy that is attacked and results in the death of nurse Valerie Place.

Finucane dies of cancer at the age of 77 on October 6, 2009 in a Dublin Spiritan Fathers’ nursing home in Kimmage Manor. His funeral is held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Kimmage and is attended by hundreds. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, and Minister for Overseas Development, Peter Power, dub him as a “tireless force for good across the globe for more than four decades.” He is buried at Dardistown Cemetery, in the Spiritan plot.

Finucane’s biography, Aengus Finucane: In the Heart of Concern, written by Deirdre Purcell is published by New Island Books in January 2015.


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Mary Robinson Inaugurated 7th President of Ireland

Mary Robinson, Irish lawyer, independent politician, and diplomat born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke, is inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on December 3, 1990, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She later serves as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) from September 1997 – September 2002.

Robinson is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. She is educated at Trinity College and the King’s Inns in Dublin and at Harvard Law School in the United States. She serves at Trinity College (University of Dublin) as Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence (1969–1975) and lecturer in European Community law (1975–1990). In 1988 she and her husband establish the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer and a renowned supporter of human rights, Robinson is elected to the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (1987–1990). She sits in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, for the University of Dublin constituency (1969–1989) and serves as whip for the Labour Party until resigning from the party over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which she feels ignores unionist objections. She is also a member of the Dublin City Council (1979–1983) and runs unsuccessfully in 1977 and 1981 for Dublin parliamentary constituencies.

Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.

Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.

After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.

Robinson is the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 Amnesty International awards her its Ambassador of Conscience Award for her human rights work. In 2009 she receives the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Her memoir, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (cowritten with Tessa Robinson), is published in 2012.

(Pictured: Mary Robinson during her inauguration as president in 1990, photograph by Matt Kavanagh)


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OHCHR Mary Robinson Criticises U.S. for Violating Human Rights

mary-robinsonOn August 30, 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, criticises the United States for violating human rights in its war on terrorism and of trying to scale back plans to save the world’s poorest people.

Robinson becomes the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 12, 1997, following her nomination to the post by Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and the endorsement of the General Assembly.

She assumes responsibility for the UN human rights programme at the time when the Office of the High Commissioner and the Centre for Human Rights are consolidated into a single Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

As High Commissioner, Robinson gives priority to implementing the Secretary-General’s reform proposal to integrate human rights into all the activities of the United Nations. During her first year as High Commissioner, she travels to Rwanda, South Africa, Colombia and Cambodia, among other countries. In September 1998, she becomes the first High Commissioner to visit China and signs an agreement with the Government for OHCHR to undertake a wide-ranging technical-cooperation programme to improve human rights in that country. She also strengthens human rights monitoring in such conflict areas as Kosovo in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Her term of office expires in 2002 after sustained pressure from the United States leads her to declare she is no longer able to continue her work.

Robinson comes to the United Nations after a distinguished, seven-year tenure as President of Ireland. She is the first Head of State to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there. She is also the first Head of State to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, and receives the CARE Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts for that country.

Before she is elected President of Ireland in 1990, Robinson serves as Senator for 20 years. Born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo, she is called to the bar in 1967 and two years later becomes the youngest Reid Professor of Constitutional Law at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1973, she becomes a member of the English Bar (Middle Temple). She becomes a Senior Counsel in 1980, and serves as a member of the Advisory Commission of Inter-Rights (1984-1990) and as a member of the International Commission of Jurists (1987-1990).

Educated at Trinity College, Robinson holds law degrees from the King’s Inns in Dublin and from Harvard University. She has been awarded numerous honorary degrees, medals and prizes from universities and humanitarian organizations around the world. In July 2009, she is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour awarded by the United States, by U.S. President Barack Obama.