seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Cavan O’Connor, “The Singing Vagabond”

Clarence Patrick O’Connor, British singer of Irish heritage known professionally as Cavan O’Connor, is born on July 1, 1899 in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, England. He is most popular in the 1930s and 1940s, when he is billed as “The Singing Vagabond” or “The Vagabond Lover.”

O’Connor is born to parents of Irish origin. His father dies when he is young, and he leaves school at an early age to work in the printing trade. He serves in World War I as a gunner and signaler in the Royal Artillery, after first being rejected by the Royal Navy when it is discovered that he had pretended to be three years older than his real age. He is wounded in the war, aged 16, while serving with the Royal Artillery. After the war he returns to Nottingham where he works in a music shop. He starts singing in clubs and at concerts, before deciding to turn professional in the early 1920s.

O’Connor wins a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he meets his wife, Rita Tate (real name Margherita Odoli), a niece of the opera singer Maggie Teyte. He makes his first recordings, as Cavan O’Connor, for the Vocalion label in 1925, including “I’m Only a Strolling Vagabond” from the operetta The Cousin from Nowhere, which becomes his signature song. Noted for his fine tenor voice, well suited for recording, he appears on many British dance band recordings in the 1920s and 1930s, and uses a wide variety of pseudonyms, including Harry Carlton, Terence O’Brien, and Allan O’Sullivan. He also joins Nigel Playfair‘s revue company at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, before moving on to playing lead roles in opera productions at The Old Vic, often performing in French, Italian and Spanish.

O’Connor turns increasingly toward light entertainment, largely for financial reasons. He starts appearing in variety shows around the country, often performing Irish folk songs. Having made his first radio broadcasts for BBC Radio in 1926, he continues to feature occasionally, but makes his breakthrough when he is billed, initially anonymously, as “The Strolling Vagabond” and “The Vagabond Lover” on a series of radio programmes produced by Eric Maschwitz in 1935. This is the first British radio series based around a solo singer, and when it becomes known that he is the performer, makes him a star, “one of Britain’s highest paid radio personalities.” The series continues for over ten years. From 1946, his Sunday lunchtime radio series, The Strolling Vagabond, is heard by up to 14 million listeners.

O’Connor consistently tours and continues to broadcast regularly. During World War II he settles in Bangor, Gwynedd, north Wales, and regularly appears on the Irish Half Hour radio programmes. His most popular songs include “The World Is Mine Tonight,” written for O’Connor by Maschwitz and George Posford, “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” an American song widely assumed to be Irish. He records frequently for at least 15 record labels over his career, including Decca Records, at one point recording 40 songs in five days. He makes over 800 recordings in total, both under his own name and pseudonyms, and also appears in two films, Ourselves Alone (1936) and Under New Management (known in the U.S. as Honeymoon Hotel, 1946).

After the war, O’Connor returns to live in London, and tours in Australia and South Africa as well as in Don Ross‘s Thanks for the Memory tours. He retires at one point to set up an electrical goods business, but then resumes his music career in the Avonmore Trio with his wife and son, to give occasional performances and make recordings, the last in 1984.

O’Connor dies at the age of 97 in London on January 11, 1997.


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Birth of Willie John McBride, Rugby Union Footballer

William James McBride, former rugby union footballer better known as Willie John McBride, is born at Toomebridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 6, 1940. He plays as a lock for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. He plays 63 tests for Ireland including eleven as captain, and tours with the Lions five times, a record that gives him 17 Lions test caps. He also captains the most successful ever Lions side, which tours South Africa in 1974.

Owing to his father’s death when he is four years old, McBride spends most of his spare time helping out on his family farm. Because of this he does not start playing rugby until he is seventeen. He is educated at Ballymena Academy and plays for the school’s First XV. After he leaves he joins Ballymena R.F.C.

In 1962 McBride is selected to play for Ireland. His first Test on February 10, 1962 is against England at Twickenham Stadium. Later that year he is selected to tour South Africa with the British and Irish Lions.

McBride continues to play for Ireland throughout the 1960s and plays for Ireland when they first defeat South Africa in 1965, and when Ireland defeats Australia in Sydney, the first time a Home Nations team had defeated a major southern hemisphere team in their own country. He is again selected for the Lions in 1966, this time touring New Zealand and Australia. He tours South Africa with the Lions again in 1968.

McBride is selected to play for the Lions in their 1971 tour of New Zealand. Despite being criticized by some as being “over the hill,” he is made pack leader and helps the Lions to a test series win over New Zealand, their first and last series win over New Zealand. He receives an MBE in 1971 for services to rugby football.

McBride’s leadership qualities lead to his appointment as captain of the British and Irish Lions in their 1974 tour to South Africa. The test series is won 3–0, with one match drawn, the first Lions series ever won in South Africa. It is one of the most controversial and physical test match series ever played. At the time there are only substitutions if a doctor agrees that a player is physically unable to continue and there are no video cameras and sideline officials to keep the punching, kicking and head butting to a minimum. If the South Africans are to resort to foul play then the Lions decide “to get their retaliation in first.” The signal for this is to call “99,” which is a signal for the Lions to clobber their nearest rival players.

In 1975 as his international career is ending McBride plays his last game for Ireland at Lansdowne Road. The game is against France, and near the end of the match he scores his first test try for Ireland. It is the crowning moment of a great playing career. His last international game is against Wales on March 15, 1975. After retiring from playing the game, McBride coaches the Irish team and is manager of the 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand. Despite the test results being mainly poor, team camaraderie is high and some good wins are recorded in other games.

In 1997 McBride is an inaugural inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He has been asked to present test jerseys and give motivational speeches to Lions players prior to matches. In 2004 he is named in Rugby World magazine as “Rugby Personality of the Century.” He is a major supporter of the Wooden Spoon Society.

McBride is awarded a CBE in the 2019 New Year Honours list for services to Rugby Union.


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Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Steps Down

Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, unexpectedly announces on March 19, 2001 that she will not seek a second term in the post. The former President of Ireland says that she believes she can achieve more outside the “constraints” of the UN.

Robinson describes the resources available to her office as inadequate and says there was a striking contrast between the fine words used at the annual United Nations Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva and the realities on the ground.

Robinson’s announcement comes as a surprise to senior staff and diplomats who had believed she might follow the example of other UN chiefs and seek a second term. Only the second person to serve in the post, she is scheduled to step down in September at the conclusion of her four-year term.

“I will continue to work wholeheartedly for human rights in the way that I know best, as an advocate,” Robinson says. “I believe that I can, at this stage, achieve more outside of the constraints that a multilateral organisation inevitably imposes.”

Robinson tells the 53-member nation commission at the start of its six-week session, “I know some will feel that I should have sought to continue working from within the United Nations and I ask them to respect my decision.”

Racism and xenophobia, manifesting themselves through discrimination and all forms of intolerance, are the wellspring of many of the world’s conflicts,” Robinson says in her address to the commission.

The 2001 forum in Geneva focuses on alleged human rights abuses in hotspots including China, the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Robinson has been a high-profile and outspoken UN commissioner, on occasion angering governments with criticism of their human rights record. She says Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, had advised her to “stay an outsider” while working within the organisation in as far as she could. And this, she says, had at times made her “an awkward voice,” both for colleagues in the UN and governments. “I make no apology for this,” she adds.

Robinson’s mandate expires after the World Conference against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa from August 31 to September 7, 2001.

(From: “Sideswipe as UN envoy steps down,” BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk), March 19, 2001)


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Birth of Fergus Slattery, Rugby Union Player

John Fergus Slattery, former rugby union player who represented Ireland, is born in Dún Laoghaire, the county town of Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, on February 12, 1949.

Slattery plays club rugby for Blackrock College and University College Dublin before embarking on an international career that takes in 61 caps for Ireland, 18 as captain, and four for the British and Irish Lions. He makes his international debut in a draw against South Africa at Lansdowne Road in 1970.

In 1971, Slattery first tours with the British and Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand, missing out on a start in the third Test due to illness. With the back-row berths claimed by John Taylor, Peter Dixon and Mervyn Davies and still being a newcomer at international level he has to wait until 1974 for his shot at a Lions Test jersey. In the meantime, he plays for the Barbarian F.C. in the famous 1973 game against the All Blacks in Cardiff.

Slattery tours with the Lions again in 1974, playing in all four Tests and captaining the side for two provincial matches. In South Africa he is an invaluable member of the touring party that comes to be known as “the invincibles.” He starts all four Tests as the Lions win the series 3-0 and skippers the side twice during midweek tour matches.

For Ireland, Slattery captains their hugely successful touring side in Australia in 1979 when they win seven of the eight matches including the two Tests in Brisbane and Sydney. In 1982 he starts all four games of Ireland’s Triple Crown season, being denied the Grand Slam by France in the final game of the Five Nations Championship.

Slattery is inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007.


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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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Birth of Richard Croker, Leader of New York’s Tammany Hall

Richard Welstead Croker, American politician who is a leader of New York City‘s Tammany Hall and a political boss also known as “Boss Croker, is born in the townland of Ballyva, in the parish of Ardfield, County Cork on November 24, 1843.

Croker is the son of Eyre Coote Croker (1800–1881) and Frances Laura Welsted (1807–1894). He is taken to the United States by his parents when he is just two years old. There are significant differences between this family and the typical family leaving Ireland at the time. They are Protestant and are not land tenants. Upon arrival in the United States, his father is without a profession, but has a general knowledge of horses and soon becomes a veterinary surgeon. During the American Civil War, he serves in that same capacity under General Daniel Sickles.

Croker is educated in New York public schools but drops out at age twelve or thirteen to become an apprentice machinist in the New York and Harlem Railroad machine shops. Not long after, he becomes a valued member of the Fourth Avenue Tunnel Gang, a street gang that attacks teamsters and other workers that gather around the Harlem line’s freight depot. He eventually becomes the gang’s leader. He joins one of the Volunteer Fire Departments in 1863, becoming an engineer of one of the engine companies. That is his gateway into public life.

James O’Brien, a Tammany associate, takes notice of Croker after he wins a boxing match against Dick Lynch whereby he knocks out all of Lynch’s teeth. He becomes a member of Tammany Hall and active in its politics. In the 1860s he is well known for being a “repeater” at elections, voting multiple times at the polls. He is an alderman from 1868–1870 and Coroner of New York City from 1873–1876. He is charged with the murder of John McKenna, a lieutenant of James O’Brien, who is running for United States Congress against the Tammany-backed Abram S. Hewitt. John Kelly, the new Tammany Hall boss, attends the trial and Croker is freed after the jury is undecided. He moves to Harrison, New York by 1880. He is appointed the New York City Fire Commissioner in 1883 and 1887 and city Chamberlain from 1889-1890.

After the death of Kelly, Croker becomes the leader of Tammany Hall and almost completely controls the organization. As head of Tammany, he receives bribe money from the owners of brothels, saloons and illegal gambling dens. He is chairman of Tammany’s Finance Committee but receives no salary for his position. He also becomes a partner in the real estate firm Meyer and Croker with Peter F. Meyer, from which he makes substantial money, often derived from sales under the control of the city through city judges. Other income comes by way of gifts of stock from street railway and transit companies, for example. At the time, the city police are largely still under the control of Tammany Hall, and payoffs from vice protection operations also contribute to Tammany income.

Croker survives Charles Henry Parkhurst‘s attacks on Tammany Hall’s corruption and becomes a wealthy man. Several committees are established in the 1890s, largely at the behest of Thomas C. Platt and other Republicans, to investigate Tammany and Croker, including the 1890 Fassett Committee, the 1894 Lexow Committee, during which Croker leaves the United States for his European residences for three years, and the Mazet Investigation of 1899.

Croker’s greatest political success is his bringing about the 1897 election of Robert Anderson Van Wyck as first mayor of the five-borough “greater” New York. During Van Wyck’s administration Croker completely dominates the government of the city.

In 1899, Croker has a disagreement with Jay Gould‘s son, George Jay Gould, president of the Manhattan Elevated Railroad Company, when Gould refuses his attempt to attach compressed-air pipes to the Elevated company’s structures. He owns many shares of the New York Auto-Truck Company, a company which would benefit from the arrangement. In response to the refusal, he uses Tammany influence to create new city laws requiring drip pans under structures in Manhattan at every street crossing and the requirement that the railroad run trains every five minutes with a $100 fine for every violation. He also holds 2,500 shares of the American Ice Company, worth approximately $250,000, which comes under scrutiny in 1900 when the company attempts to raise the price of ice in the city.

After Croker’s failure to carry the city in the 1900 United States presidential election and the defeat of his mayoralty candidate, Edward M. Shepard, in 1901, he resigns from his position of leadership in Tammany and is succeeded by Lewis Nixon. He departs the United States in 1905.

Croker operates a stable of thoroughbred racehorses during his time in the United States in partnership with Michael F. Dwyer. In January 1895, they send a stable of horses to England under the care of trainer Hardy Campbell, Jr. and jockey Willie Simms. Following a dispute, the partnership is dissolved in May but Croker continues to race in England. In 1907, his horse Orby wins Britain’s most prestigious race, The Derby. Orby is ridden by American jockey John Reiff whose brother Lester had won the race in 1901. Croker is also the breeder of Orby’s son, Grand Parade, who wins the Derby in 1919.

Croker returns to Ireland in 1905 and dies on April 29, 1922 at Glencairn House, his home in Stillorgan outside Dublin. His funeral, celebrated by South African bishop William Miller, draws some of Dublin’s most eminent citizens. The pallbearers are Arthur Griffith, the President of Dáil Éireann; Laurence O’Neill, the Lord Mayor of Dublin; Oliver St. John Gogarty; Joseph MacDonagh; A.H. Flauley, of Chicago; and J.E. Tierney. Michael Collins, Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State, is represented by Kevin O’Shiel; the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Edmund Bernard FitzAlan-Howard, 1st Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent, is represented by his under-secretary, James MacMahon.

In 1927, J. J. Walsh claims that just before his death Croker had accepted the Provisional Government’s invitation to stand in Dublin County in the imminent 1922 Irish general election.


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Birth of Alice Stopford Green, Historian & Nationalist

NPG x74642,Alice Stopford Green (nÈe Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford),by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (later The Cameron Studio)Alice Stopford Green, Irish historian and nationalist, is born in Kells, County Meath on May 30, 1847. She is noted for proving the Irish had a rich culture before English rule. A strong supporter of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, she is nominated to the first Seanad Éireann in December 1922.

Stopford Green is born Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford. Her father, Edward Adderley Stopford, is Rector of Kells and Archdeacon of Meath. Her paternal grandfather is Edward Stopford, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath, and she is a cousin of Stopford Brooke and Mother Mary Clare. From 1874 to 1877 she lives in London where she meets the historian John Richard Green. They are married in Chester on June 14, 1877, however he dies in 1883. John Morley publishes her first historical work, Henry II, in 1888.

In the 1890s Stopford Green becomes interested in Irish history and the nationalist movement as a result of her friendship with John Francis Taylor. She is vocal in her opposition to English colonial policy in South Africa during the Boer Wars and supports Roger Casement‘s Congo Reform movement. Her 1908 book The Making of Ireland and its Undoing argues for the sophistication and richness of the native Irish civilisation. She is active in efforts to make the prospect of Home Rule more palatable to Ulster Unionists. She is closely involved in the Howth gun-running.

Stopford Green moves to Dublin in 1918 where her house at 90 St. Stephen’s Green becomes an intellectual centre. She supports the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is among the first nominees to the newly formed Seanad Éireann in 1922, where she serves as an independent member until her death in Dublin on May 28, 1929, two days shy of her 82nd birthday. She is one of four women elected or appointed to the first Seanad in 1922.


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Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.


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The Execution of Joe Brady

joe-bradyJoe Brady is hanged at Kilmainham Gaol in Kilmainham, Dublin on May 14, 1883 for the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Four others are also executed for the murders.

Brady is a member of the Irish National Invincibles, usually known as the Invincibles, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. This group of assassins is active in Dublin between late 1881 and 1883, with an intent to kill the authorities in Dublin Castle.

After numerous attempts on his life, Chief Secretary for Ireland William Edward “Buckshot” Forster resigns in protest of the Kilmainham Treaty. The Invincibles settle on a plan to kill the Permanent Under Secretary Thomas Henry Burke at the Irish Office. The newly installed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, is walking in Phoenix Park with Burke on Saturday, May 6, 1882, the day of his arrival in Ireland, when the assassins strike.

The first assassination in the park is committed by Brady, who attacks Burke with a 12-inch knife, followed in short order by Tim Kelly, who knifes Cavendish. Both men use surgical knives. The British press expresses outrage and demands that the “Phoenix Park Murderers” be brought to justice.

A large number of suspects are arrested. By playing one suspect against another, Superintendent Mallon of G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police gets several of them to reveal what they know. The Invincibles’ leader, James Carey, and Michael Kavanagh agree to testify against the others. Carey is ultimately given passage to South Africa but is shot on board the Melrose Castle by Patrick O’Donnell. O’Donnell is brought back to England and hanged in December 1883.

Brady, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey, Dan Curley and Tim Kelly are hanged by William Marwood in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin beginning with Brady’s execution on May 14 and and continuing until June 4. Others are sentenced to long prison terms.

No member of the founding executive, however, is ever brought to trial by the British government. John Walsh, Patrick Egan, John Sheridan, Frank Byrne, and Patrick Tynan are welcomed in the United States, where sentiment toward the murders is less severe, although not celebratory.

Brady by all accounts was a mountain of a man. The Times writes following his execution: “He was brought up as a stonemason of herculean strength, his occupation developing the muscular power of his arms, which told with such terrible effect when he drove the knives into the bodies of Lord Cavendish and his secretary T. H. Burke.”

Kilmainham Gaol contains the graves of the Invincibles convicted and executed for the Phoenix park stabbings.


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Birth of Robert Tressell, Irish Writer

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, is born in Dublin on April 17, 1870. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at County Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.