seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Cyril Cusack, Irish Film & Television Actor

Cyril James Cusack, Irish actor who appears in numerous films and television productions in a career lasting more than 70 years, dies in Chiswick, London, England on October 7, 1993. In 2020, he is listed at number 14 on The Irish Times‘s list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.

Cusack is born in Durban, Natal, South Africa, on November 26, 1910. His mother, Alice Violet (née Cole), is an English Cockney actress and chorus girl, and his father, James Walter Cusack, is an Irish mounted policeman in the Colony of Natal, South Africa. His parents separate when he is young and his mother takes him to England, and then to Ireland. His mother and her partner, Brefni O’Rorke, join the O’Brien and Ireland Players.

Cusack makes his first stage performance at the age of seven. He is educated at Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, then reads law at University College Dublin. He leaves without a degree and joins the Abbey Theatre in 1932. Between then and 1945, he performs in over 60 productions, particularly excelling in the plays of Seán O’Casey. He also performs Irish playwright Teresa Deevy‘s plays Katie Roche and The King of Spain’s Daughter. In 1932 he also joins the Gate Theatre company, appearing with them in many notable productions over the years. In 1947, he forms his own company and stages productions in Dublin, Paris and New York.

In 1963, Cusack joins the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and appears there for several seasons. By this stage he has established a successful career in films, which had started at the age of eight. Also in 1963, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his performance in the Telefís Éireann production of Triptych. He receives honorary degrees in 1977 and 1980 from the National University of Ireland (NUI) and the University of Dublin respectively.

Cusack, who is bilingual in English and Irish, has a leading role in the controversial Irish language film Poitín (1977). He is also offered the role of the First Doctor in Doctor Who.

Cusack’s last stage performance is in Anton Chekhov‘s Three Sisters (1990), in which three of his daughters play the sisters.

Cusack is twice married, firstly to Mary Margaret “Maureen” Kiely (1920–1977), on April 5, 1945. Together they have five children: Paul (1946), Sinéad (1948), Sorcha (1949), Niamh (1959), and Pádraig (1962). He and his second wife, Mary Rose Cunningham (1979–1993), have one daughter, Catherine (1968).

In later life, Cusack becomes a campaigner for conservative causes in Ireland, notably in his opposition to abortion, where he becomes a frequent letter-writer to the main liberal Irish newspaper, The Irish Times. Regarding his Catholic faith, he comments “Religion promotes the divine discontent within oneself, so that one tries to make oneself a better person and draw oneself closer to God.” His religious credentials come under scrutiny following his death and the revelation that he had been unfaithful in his first marriage, with a long-term mistress, Mary Rose Cunningham. He marries Cunningham following his first wife’s death.

Cusack is a longtime friend of Attorney General of Ireland, Chief Justice of Ireland and fifth President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, whom he got to know when they were students at University College Dublin in the early 1930s.

On October 7, 1993, Cusack dies at the age of 82 at home in Chiswick, Greater London, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His acting career had lasted 75 years.

Cusack is the maternal grandfather of Irish Socialist Workers Party Teachta Dála (TD) Richard Boyd Barrett and English actor Max Irons.


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Sonia O’Sullivan Wins 10,000m at European Championships

Sonia O’Sullivan, track and field athlete, wins the 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary on August 19, 1998.

Born on November 28, 1969 in Cobh, County Cork, O’Sullivan is educated in Cobh Community College. She completes her leaving certificate in 1987. Her first major international competition is the 1990 European Athletics Championships at Split, Yugoslavia where she finishes 11th in the 3,000 metres.

O’Sullivan first comes to prominence when winning the 1,500 metres at the 1991 Summer Universiade, before going on to finish fourth in the 3,000 metres final at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. She then wins a silver medal in the 1,500 metres at the 1993 World Championships and a gold medal in the 5,000 metres at the 1995 World Championships. She is the favourite for the 5,000 metres title at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta but drops out of the final due to illness. Her 2,000 metres world record of 5:25.36, set in 1994, stands until 2017.

After a disappointing end to her 1997 season, O’Sullivan makes an impressive comeback in 1998. At the World Athletics Cross Country Championships at Marrakesh in March, she enters both the short course (4 km) and long course (8 km) events. On successive days, she wins both events, and her 4 km time of 12:20 is 14 seconds ahead of her nearest rival. She continues this form into the track season, where her performances in the 1,500 metres, 3,000 metres and 5,000 metres are close to those she had produced at her peak in 1994 and 1995.

At the European Athletics Championships in Budapest, the 1,500 metres and 5,000 metres finals, events at which O’Sullivan usually doubles at major championships, are scheduled to be run on the same day, thus denying her the opportunity of competing in both events. Undeterred, she enters the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres, having never run the latter event before on the track. In the 10,000 metres final, on August 19, she shadows the leaders, and then produces an astonishing 28.1 second final 200 metres to win the gold medal in 31:29.33 in her debut at the distance. Four days later, in the more familiar territory of the 5,000 metres, the pace is set by Romanian Gabriela Szabo, but again, O’Sullivan produces an explosive finishing sprint to defeat Szabo in 15:06.50.

At the IAAF World Cup held the following month in Johannesburg, South Africa, O’Sullivan wins her second major international 5,000 metres competition of the year, again sprinting clear of the opposition following a very slow pace. She concludes her year by winning the Bupa Great North Run.

At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, O’Sullivan wins a silver medal in the 5,000 metres. She wins silver medals in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres at the 2002 European Athletics Championships, and competes at her fourth Olympic Games in 2004. She is known for her dramatic kick, clocking 28-second final 200 metre splits in some of her races.

O’Sullivan is only one of two women (the other being Tirunesh Dibaba) who have won the short and long course World Cross Country title at the same championship (1998 in Marrakesh).


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Birth of Professional Golfer Darren Clarke

Darren Christopher Clarke, professional golfer who currently plays on the PGA Tour Champions and has previously played on the European Tour and PGA Tour, is born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland on August 14, 1968.

In 1987 Clarke plays collegiate golf at Wake Forest University in the United States. He is a junior member of Dungannon Golf Club, whose junior section also includes three others who are current PGA Golf Professionals: Alistair Cardwell, Barry Hamill and Gary Chambers. He represents his school, Royal School Dungannon, together with Cardwell and Chambers.

A stalwart of the European Tour since 1991, Clarke is no stranger to firsts. In the 1999 Smurfit European Open he becomes the first player on the European Tour to shoot 60 for a second time, having achieved it first in the 1992 European Monte Carlo Open. In 2002 he becomes the first player to win the English Open three times and in 2003 becomes the first player outside Tiger Woods to capture more than one World Golf Championships title.

Three weeks after the untimely death of his wife, Heather, to cancer in August 2006, Clarke is picked as one of the wild cards for the Ryder Cup at K Club. In an emotionally charged week he produces one of his most memorable performances, winning all three of his matches.

Clarke assures his place in history by earning a place in the renowned ‘Who’s Who‘ guide for 2008, and in 2005 he even appears on an Irish postage stamp. A difficult 2007, where he juggles looking after his two sons with his golf regime, sees him slip down the rankings, but he begins to find his form again in South Africa before the winter break.

In 2008 Clarke wins the BMW Asian Open in China and the KLM Open in the Netherlands where his sons Tyrone and Conor are there to witness his victory.

In 2010 Clarke beats a world-class field in the J. P. McManus Invitational Pro-Am at Adare Manor in Ireland where he has a one shot victory over Luke Donald. He secures his spot in the 139th Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews by finishing second in the Barclays Scottish Open. He finishes 30th in the European Tour Race. He rounds off 2010 in great style with the announcement of his engagement to Alison Campbell.

Clarke begins 2011 with a victory in the Iberdrola Open in Mallorca but he enjoys his finest hour in July when he claims his maiden major championship, winning the 140th Open Championship at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Kent by three shots over Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

In April 2012 Clarke and Alison Campbell are married at Abaco in The Bahamas which marks a very happy new chapter for the Clarke family. He is appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to golf.

In February 2015, Clarke is named as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain and dedicates the next 18 months to the role. Ultimately, Europe is beaten 17-11 by the United States at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

A dedicated worker for charity, Clarke sets up his own Darren Clarke Foundation, which not only helps further the development of junior golf in Ireland, but also now raises money for Breast Cancer Awareness.


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Death of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

Arthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, dies suddenly in Dublin on August 12, 1922. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is born at 61 Upper Dominick Street, Dublin on March 31, 1871, of distant Welsh lineage. He is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge), which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates the withdrawal of Irish members from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the setting up of the institutions of government at home, a policy that becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) for East Cavan in a by-election in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 Irish general election, when Sinn Féin wins a huge electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party and, refusing to take their seats at Westminster, set up their own constituent assembly, Dáil Éireann.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, intracerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘s assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.


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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.