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


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Birth of Januarius MacGahan, Journalist & Correspondent

januarius-macgahanJanuarius Aloysius MacGahan, American journalist and war correspondent for the New York Herald and The Daily News, is born near New Lexington, Ohio on June 12, 1844. His articles describing the massacre of Bulgarian civilians by Turkish soldiers and irregular volunteers in 1876 creates public outrage in Europe, and are a major factor in preventing Britain from supporting Turkey in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78, which leads to Bulgaria gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

MacGahan’s father is an immigrant from Ireland who had served on the Northumberland, the ship which took Napoleon into exile on Saint Helena. He moves to St. Louis, where he briefly works as a teacher and as a journalist. There he meets his cousin, General Philip Sheridan, an American Civil War hero also of Irish parentage, who convinces him to study law in Europe. He sails to Brussels in December 1868.

MacGahan does not get a law degree, but he discovers that he has a gift for languages, learning French and German. He runs short of money and is about to return to America in 1870 when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out. Sheridan happens to be an observer with the German Army, and he uses his influence to persuade the European editor of the New York Herald to hire MacGahan as a war correspondent with the French Army.

MacGahan’s vivid articles from the front lines describing the stunning defeat of the French Army win him a large following, and many of his dispatches to the Herald are reprinted by European newspapers. When the war ends, he interviews French leader Léon Gambetta and Victor Hugo and, in March 1871, he hurries to Paris and is one of the first foreign correspondents to report on the uprising of the Paris Commune. He is arrested by the French military and nearly executed, and is only rescued through the intervention of the U.S. Minister to France Elihu B. Washburne.

In 1871 MacGahan is assigned as the Herald‘s correspondent to Saint Petersburg. He learns Russian, mingles with the Russian military and nobility, covers the Russian tour of General William Tecumseh Sherman and meets his future wife, Varvara Elagina, whom he marries in 1873. In 1874 he spends ten months in Spain, covering the Third Carlist War.

In 1876 MacGahan quarrels with James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, and leaves the newspaper. He is invited by his friend, Eugene Schuyler, the American Consul-General in Constantinople, to investigate reports of large-scale atrocities committed by the Turkish Army following the failure of an attempted uprising by Bulgarian nationalists in April 1876. He obtains a commission from The Daily News, then the leading liberal newspaper in England, and leaves for Bulgaria on July 23, 1876.

MacGahan reports that the Turkish soldiers have forced some of the villagers into the church, then the church is burned and survivors tortured to learn where they have hidden their treasures. He says that of a population of seven thousand, only two thousand survive. According to his account, fifty-eight villages in Bulgaria are destroyed, five monasteries demolished, and fifteen thousand people in all massacred. These reports, published first in The Daily News, and then in other papers, cause widespread popular outrage against Turkey in Britain. The government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a supporter of Turkey, tries to minimize the massacres and says that the Bulgarians are equally to blame, but his arguments are refuted by the newspaper accounts of MacGahan.

In the wake of the massacres and atrocities committed by the Ottoman forces during the suppression of the April Uprising, as well as centuries-long conflicts between Russia and Turkey in Crimea, the Russian Government, stirred by anti-Turkish and Pan-Slavism sentiment, prepare to invade the Ottoman Empire, and declare war on it on April 24, 1877. The Turkish Government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II appeals for help to Britain, its traditional ally against Russia, but the British government responds that it can not intervene “because of the state of public feeling.”

MacGahan is assigned as a war correspondent for The Daily News and, thanks to his friendship with General Skobelev, the Russian commander, rides with the first units of the Russian Army as it crosses the Danube into Bulgaria. He covers all the major battles of the Russo–Turkish War, including the Siege of Plevna and the Battle of Shipka Pass. He reports on the final defeat of the Turkish armies and is present at the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano, which ends the war.

MacGahan is in Constantinople, preparing to travel to Berlin for the conference that determines the final borders of Bulgaria, when he catches typhoid fever. He dies on June 9, 1878, and is buried in the Greek cemetery, in the presence of diplomats, war correspondents, and General Skobelev. Five years later his body is returned to the United States and reburied in New Lexington and a statue is erected in his honor by a society of Bulgarian Americans.

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Death of Olympic Gold Medalist Martin John Sheridan

martin-john-sheridanMartin John Sheridan, “one of the greatest athletes the United States has ever known” according to his obituary in The New York Times, dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, the day before his 37th birthday.

Sheridan is born in Bohola, County Mayo on March 28, 1881. At 6’3″ and 194 lbs., Sheridan is the best all-around athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club, and like many of his teammates, serves with the New York City Police Department from 1906 until his death. He is so well respected in the NYPD, that he serves as the Governor’s personal bodyguard when the governor is in New York City.

A five-time Olympic gold medalist, with a total of nine Olympic medals, Sheridan is called “one of the greatest figures that ever represented this country in international sport, as well as being one of the most popular who ever attained the championship honor.” He wins the discus throw event at the 1904, 1906, and 1908 Summer Olympic Games as well as the shot put at the 1906 Olympics and the Greek discus in 1908. At the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece he also wins silver medals in the standing high jump, standing long jump and the stone throw.

In 1907, Sheridan wins the National Amateur Athletic Union discus championship and the Canadian championship, and in 1908 he wins the Metropolitan, National and Canadian championships as well as two gold medals in the discus throw and bronze in the standing long jump at the 1908 Olympic Games.

Two of Sheridan’s gold medals from the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri and one of his medals from the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece, are currently located in the USA Track & Field‘s Hall of Fame History Gallery, in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

There are claims that Sheridan fuels a controversy in London in 1908, when flagbearer Ralph Rose refuses to dip the flag to King Edward VII. Sheridan supports Rose by explaining “This flag dips to no earthly king,” and it is claimed that his statement exemplifies both Irish and American defiance of the British monarchy. However, careful research has shown that this is first reported in 1952. Sheridan himself makes no mention of it in his published reports on the Games and neither does his obituary.

Martin Sheridan dies in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, a very early casualty of the 1918 flu pandemic. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. The inscription on the granite Celtic Cross monument marking his grave says in part: “Devoted to the Institutions of his Country, and the Ideals and Aspirations of his Race. Athlete. Patriot.” He is part of a group of Irish American athletes known as the “Irish Whales.”


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Birth of Brian Coffey, Poet & Publisher

Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.

Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.

In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.

During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.

By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.

In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.

Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.

Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.


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Birth of John B. Bannon, Irish Catholic Jesuit Priest

john-bannonJohn B. Bannon, Irish Catholic Jesuit priest who serves as a Confederate chaplain during the American Civil War, is born in Roosky, County Roscommon, on December 29, 1829. He is also renowned as an orator.

Bannon is born to James Bannon, a Dublin grain dealer, and Fanny Bannon (née O’Farrell). He goes to the vincentian Castleknock College in Dublin. In 1846 he goes to study for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in the minor seminary until 1850 and completing his theology course in 1853. He is ordained on June 16, 1853 by Archbishop Paul Cullen for the Dublin Diocese. He soon applies to move to America.

Shortly after ordination he moves to the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri. He becomes pastor to St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Church which he builds in 1858. He serves in the First Missouri Confederate Brigade, during the American Civil War. He ministers at the battles of Corinth, Fort Gibson, and at Big Black River Bridge, Vicksburg.

He is detained on July 4, 1863 when Vicksburg surrenders. After being released by Union forces he goes to Richmond, Virginia in August 1863, where Jefferson Davis and Secretary of State Judah Benjamin ask him to go to Ireland to discourage recruitment for the Federal forces and try to get international help for the Confederacy.

In November 1863, Bannon returns to Ireland, writing and pamphleting to discourage people from emigrating and joining the Union side of the civil war. He makes two trips to Rome to try, unsuccessfully, to get the Vatican to side with the Confederacy. Following the American Civil War he is banned from preaching in St. Louis, and stays in Ireland, becoming a Jesuit in 1865, spending some time in Milltown Park, Tullabeg College, and in Gardiner Street.

Bannon dies on July 14, 1913 in Upper Gardiner Street, and is buried in the Jesuit plot at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Death of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Composer & Bandmaster

patrick-sarsfield-gilmorePatrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Irish-born American composer and bandmaster, dies in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 24, 1892. He lives and works in the United States after 1848. While serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War, Gilmore writes the lyrics to the song When Johnny Comes Marching Home, the tune taken from the old Irish antiwar folk song, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye. This is published under the name Louis Lambert.

Gilmore is born in Ballygar, County Galway, on December 25, 1829. He starts his music career at age fifteen, and spends time in Canada with an English band. Already a fine cornet player, he settles in Boston, Massachusetts in 1848, becoming leader of the Suffolk, Boston Brigade, and Salem bands in swift succession. He also works in the Boston music store of John P. Ordway and founds Ordway’s Aeolians, a group of blackface minstrels. With the Salem Band, Gilmore performs at the 1857 inauguration of President James Buchanan.

In 1858, Gilmore founds “Gilmore’s Band,” and at the outset of the American Civil War the band enlists with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteers, accompanying General Ambrose Burnside to North Carolina. After the temporary discharge of bands from the field, Governor John Albion Andrew of Massachusetts entrusts Gilmore with the task of re-organizing military music-making. General Nathaniel P. Banks creates him Bandmaster-general.

When the war ends Gilmore is asked to organize a celebration, which takes place in New Orleans. That success emboldens him to undertake two major music festivals in Boston, the National Peace Jubilee in 1869 and the World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival in 1872. These feature monster orchestras of massed bands with the finest singers and instrumentalists, including the only American appearance by “waltz king” Johann Strauss II, and cements Gilmore’s reputation as the leading musical figure of the age. Coliseums are erected for the occasions, holding 60- and 120,000 persons. Grateful Bostonians present Gilmore with medals and cash, but in 1873 he moves to New York, as bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment. Gilmore takes this band on acclaimed tours of Europe.

On September 24, 1892, back in the United States preparing an 1892 musical celebration of the quadricentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘ voyage of discovery, Gilmore collapses and dies in St. Louis. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York, where his wife is later interred.

In many ways Gilmore can be seen as the principal figure in 19th-century American music. He holds the first “Promenade Concert in America” in 1855, the forerunner to today’s Boston Pops. He sets up “Gilmore’s Concert Garden,” which becomes Madison Square Garden. He is the Musical Director of the Nation in effect, leading the festivities for the 1876 Centennial celebrations in Philadelphia and the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886. In 1888 he starts the tradition of seeing in the New Year in Times Square.

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.