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


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.

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Birth of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, is born on October 24, 1854.

Plunkett is the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.


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Birth of Anglo-Irish Poet Richard Murphy

Richard Murphy, Anglo-Irish poet, is born on August 6, 1927 in County Mayo. He is a member of Aosdána and currently lives in Sri Lanka.

Murphy is born to an Anglo-Irish family at Milford House, near the Mayo-Galway border. His childhood in Ireland is documented in the film The Other Irish Travellers made by his niece, Fiona Murphy.

He spends much of his early childhood in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, where his father, William Lindsay Murphy, serves in the Colonial Service and is active as mayor of Colombo and Governor-General of the Bahamas, in succession to the Duke of Windsor. He first receives his education at Canterbury School and Wellington College, Berkshire. He wins a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, at 17, where he studies English under C.S. Lewis. He is later educated at the Sorbonne and, between 1953 and 1954, he runs a school in Crete. In his Archaeology of Love (1955), Murphy reflects on his experiences in England and the Continent.

In 1954, Murphy settles at Cleggan, a village on the coast of Galway where fishing has been abandoned after a famous sailing disaster. Several years later, in 1959, he purchases and renovates the Ave Maria, a traditional Galway hooker type boat, from Inishbofin fisherman, Michael Schofield, which he uses to ferry visitors to the island. Taking the first-hand accounts of survivors of the sailing disaster, he weaves the material into a long tour de force poem which closes his first collection Sailing to an Island, published in the early 1960s by Faber & Faber. In 1969, he purchases Ardoileán (High Island), a small island in the vicinity of Inishbofin.

Murphy enjoys commissions for his poems from the BBC which prompts him to start on his long book-length sequence The Battle of Aughrim. Ostensibly about the 18th century triumph of Dutch-led Protestant forces over the Irish and French Catholic forces, the poem deals obliquely not only with the brewing strife in Ulster of the 1960s, but also with the issues of the Vietnam War. Its episodic structure is highly influential on poetic sequences subsequently published by Montague and Heaney.

Since 1971 Murphy has been a poet-in-residence at nine American universities. He lives in Sri Lanka, having previously divided his time between Dublin and Durban, South Africa, where his daughter and her family reside. He is the maternal grandfather of YouTuber Caspar Lee. In 2002, a memoir of his life and times, The Kick, is published by Granta, constructed from detailed diaries kept over the course of five decades.


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Birth of Bishop Eamonn Casey

Eamonn Casey, Irish Roman Catholic prelate who serves as bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh in Ireland from 1976 to 1992, is born in Firies, County Kerry on April 24, 1927.

Casey is educated in Limerick and in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained a priest for the Diocese of Limerick on June 17, 1951 and appointed Bishop of Kerry on July 17, 1969. He holds this position until 1976, when he is appointed Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora. While in Galway, he is seen as a progressive. It is a significant change in a diocese that has been led for nearly forty years by the very conservative Michael Browne.

Casey is well known for his work aiding Irish emigrants in Britain. In addition, he supports the Dunnes Stores‘ staff, who are locked out from 1982 to 1986 for refusing to sell goods from apartheid South Africa.

Casey attends the funeral of the murdered Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Óscar Romero. He witnesses first hand the massacre of those attending the funeral by government forces. He then becomes a vocal opponent of United States foreign policy in Central America, and, as a result, opposes the 1984 visit of United States President Ronald Reagan to Ireland, refusing to meet him when he comes to Galway.

Casey is highly influential in the Irish Catholic hierarchy, and serves as bishop until his resignation in 1992. He is a friend and colleague of another highly prominent Irish priest, Father Michael Cleary.

In 1992, newspapers discover that Casey has had a sexual relationship with Annie Murphy, an American divorcée. Together they have a son, Peter, born in 1974 in Dublin. Murphy later claims that Casey had attempted to persuade her to give the child up for adoption at birth. She chooses not to do so and raises him with the help of her parents. When Murphy decides to go public about the relationship and informs The Irish Times, Casey tenders his resignation and leaves the country.

Casey’s resignation is regarded as a pivotal moment when the Roman Catholic hierarchy begins to lose its considerable influence over the society and politics of Ireland. He is succeeded by his Secretary, Bishop James McLoughlin, who serves in the post until his own retirement on July 3, 2005.

Casey opts to embrace the life of a foreign missionary in South America. He works with members of the Missionary Society of St. James in a rural parish in Ecuador, despite his lack of knowledge of the Spanish language. During this time, he travels long distances to reach the widely scattered members of his parish. After his missionary period is completed, instead of returning to Ireland, Casey takes a position in the parish of St. Pauls, Haywards Heath, in South East England. He returns to Ireland in 2006.

In 2005, Casey is investigated in conjunction with the sexual abuse scandal in Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora diocese. He is subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Casey suffers four mini strokes in 2002 and begins to experience memory issues. In August 2011, he is admitted to a nursing home in County Clare. Eamonn Casey dies on March 13, 2017 at the age of 89.


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Birth of Theatrical Producer Hilton Edwards

hilton-edwardsHilton Edwards, an English-born Irish actor, lighting designer, and theatrical producer, is born in London on February 2, 1903.

Edwards begins his career acting with the Charles Doran Shakespeare Company in 1920 in Windsor and then joins The Old Vic in London, playing in all but two of Shakespeare‘s plays before leaving the company a few years later. Trained in music, he also sings baritone roles with the Old Vic Opera company.

After touring with various companies in Britain and South Africa, Edwards goes to Ireland in 1927 for a season with Anew McMaster’s company and meets McMaster’s brother-in-law, Micheál Mac Liammóir. As he tells an interviewer once, both men want a theater of their own. Mac Liammóir wants it to be in Ireland and Edwards does not care. “I don’t care about nationalism, I care about the theater,” he says.

Edwards and Mac Liammóir co-found the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The two men’s talents are complementary. Mac Liammóir is an actor, designer, and writer. Edwards is a director, actor, producer, and lighting designer. Edwards produces and directs more than 300 plays at the Gate, ranging from the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Henrik Ibsen to the comedies of George Bernard Shaw and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and new Irish plays, by such authors as W.B. Yeats, Brian Friel, and Mac Liammóir.

In New York City in 1948 Edwards plays in and directs John Bull’s Other Island and directs The Old Lady Says No and Where Stars Walk. In 1961 Edwards takes a two-year leave from the Gate to become the first Head of Drama at Telefís Éireann. A year later, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his television series Self Portrait.

Edwards appears in 15 films, including Captain Lightfoot (1955), David and Goliath (1960), Victim (1961), and Half a Sixpence (1967). He also writes and directs Orson Welles‘s Return to Glennascaul (1951). However, he is primarily known for his theatre work. He is nominated for a Tony Award in 1966 for Best Director of a Drama for Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Hilton Edwards dies in a Dublin hospital on November 18, 1982. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christophor Fitz-Simon.


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Mary Robinson Resigns as President of Ireland

mary-robinsonPresident Mary Robinson resigns on September 12, 1997, two months ahead of the end of her term, in order to take up appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On July 24, 1997 Robinson announces her intention to resign as President of Ireland. The Irish Government states that her announcement “was not unexpected” and wishes her “every success.” She resigns by addressing a message to the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann and it takes effect at 1:00 PM on September 12.

Upon her resignation as President, the role of President is transferred to the Presidential Commission, which is comprised of the Chief Justice, the Ceann Comhairle, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Éireann, from September 12 until November 11, 1997, when Mary McAleese is sworn in as the new President.

Media reports suggest that Robinson has been head-hunted for the post by Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to assume an advocacy as opposed to administrative role, in other words to become a public campaigner outlining principles rather than the previous implementational and consensus-building model. The belief is that the post has ceased to be seen as the voice of general principles and has become largely bureaucratic. Robinson’s role is to set the human rights agenda within the organisation and internationally, refocusing its appeal.

Robinson is the first High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet, making her trip in 1998. During her tenure she criticises the Irish system of permits for non-EU immigrants as similar to “bonded labour” and criticises the United States’ use of capital punishment.

In 2001, Robinson chairs the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances, which is held in Tehran, Iran. Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish group, and the Baha’i International Community are not permitted to attend. Robinson wears a headscarf at the meeting in conformance to the Iranians edict that all women attending the conference must wear a headscarf. Women who do not wear the headscarf are criticized, which Robinson says plays into the hands of religious conservatives.

She extends her intended single four-year term by a year following an appeal by Secretary General Annan to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.


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Nelson Mandela Awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin

nelson-mandela-freedom-of-dublinNelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first president of South Africa to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, is awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin on his 70th birthday, July 18, 1988. Mandela is not available to receive his award on the date it is conferred, however, as he is a prisoner in South Africa at the time. On July 1, 1990, after his release from prison, Mandela  finally receives the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in the Mansion House Dublin.

The Freedom of the City of Dublin is awarded by Dublin City Council after approving a person nominated by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Eighty people have been honoured under the current process introduced in 1876. Most honourees have made a contribution to the life of the city or of Ireland in general, including politicians, public servants, humanitarians, artists, and entertainers. Others have been distinguished members of the Irish diaspora and foreign leaders, honoured visiting Dublin. Honourees sign the roll of freedmen in a ceremony at City Hall or the Mansion House and are presented with an illuminated scroll by the Lord Mayor.

Mandela is honoured with the Freedom of Dublin city for his contribution to society and commitment to the study and promotion of Human Rights and also his work in the area of development and social inclusion, which has enhanced the lives of local communities in Ireland and fostered global links with institutions and organisations.

Among the notable recipients of this award are American presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill ClintonMikhail Gorbachev, Éamon de Valera, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Aung San Suu Kyi, all four members of U2, Bob Geldof, and Ronnie Delaney.

Holders of this award have some ancient privileges and duties such as the right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs duties, the right to pasture sheep on common ground within the city boundaries including College Green and St. Stephen’s Green (this right is exercised as a publicity stunt by U2 members the day after their 2000 conferring), and the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections. Some of the ancient duties are that freemen/women must be ready to defend the city of Dublin from attack and, at short notice, can be called up to join a city militia. Also a law which was passed in 1454 states that freemen/women must own a bow, a coat of mail, a helmet, and a sword.