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


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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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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Death of Dermot Morgan, Comedian & Actor

dermot-john-morganDermot John Morgan, Irish comedian and actor who achieves international renown for his role as Father Ted Crilly in the Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, dies of a heart attack on February 28, 1998 in Hounslow, London, England.

Morgan is born in Dublin on March 31, 1952. Educated at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, and University College, Dublin (UCD), Morgan comes to prominence as part of the team behind the highly successful RTÉ television show The Live Mike. Morgan makes his debut in the media on the Morning Ireland radio show produced by Gene Martin. Between 1979 and 1982 Morgan, who has been a teacher at St. Michael’s College, Ailesbury Road, plays a range of comic characters who appear between segments of the show, including Father Trendy, an unctuous trying-to-be-cool Catholic priest given to drawing ludicrous parallels with non-religious life in two-minute ‘chats’ to camera.

Morgan’s success as Father Trendy and other characters leads him to leave teaching and become a full-time comedian.

Morgan’s biggest Irish broadcasting success occurs in the late 1980s on the Saturday morning radio comedy show Scrap Saturday, which mocks Ireland’s political, business, and media establishment. The show’s treatment of the relationship between the ever-controversial Taoiseach Charles Haughey and his press secretary P.J. Mara prove particularly popular. When RTÉ axes the show in the early 1990s a national outcry ensues. Morgan lashes the decision, calling it “a shameless act of broadcasting cowardice and political subservience.”

Already a celebrity in Ireland, Morgan’s big break comes in Channel 4‘s Irish sitcom Father Ted, which runs for three series from April 21, 1995 until May 1, 1998. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews audition many actors for the title role, but Morgan’s enthusiasm wins him the part.

Father Ted centres on three disparate characters. Father Ted Crilly, played by Morgan, lives a frustrated life trapped on the fictional Craggy Island. Irish TV comedy actor Frank Kelly plays Father Jack Hackett, a foul-mouthed and apparently brain-damaged alcoholic, while child-minded Father Dougal McGuire is played by comedian Ardal O’Hanlon. The three priests are looked after by their housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, played by Pauline McLynn, with whom Morgan had worked on Scrap Saturday. Father Ted enjoys widespread popularity and critical acclaim. In 1998, the show wins a BAFTA award for the best comedy, Morgan wins a BAFTA for best actor, and McLynn is named best actress.

On February 28, 1998, one day after recording the last episode of Father Ted, Morgan has a heart attack while hosting a dinner party at his home in southwest London. He is rushed to hospital but dies soon afterwards. Morgan’s Requiem Mass in St. Therese’s Church in Mount Merrion, south Dublin, is attended by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese, her predecessor, Mary Robinson, and by political and church leaders, many of whom had been the targets of his humour in Scrap Saturday. He is cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery and his ashes are buried in the family plot in Deansgrange Cemetery.


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Birth of Lawyer & Politician Philip Tisdall

philip-tisdallPhilip Tisdall, lawyer and politician who is a leading figure in the Irish Government for many years, is born on March 1, 1703, in County Louth.

Tisdall is the son of Richard Tisdall, who is MP for Dundalk in 1703–1713 and for Louth in 1717–1727, by his wife Marian Boyle, daughter of Richard Boyle, MP, a cousin of the Earl of Cork. His father is also Registrar of the Court of Chancery.

Tisdall is educated at Thomas Sheridan‘s school in Dublin, and at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1722. He enters Middle Temple in 1723 and is called to the Irish Bar in 1733.

In 1736 he marries Mary Singleton, daughter of the Rev. Rowland Singleton and Elizabeth Graham, and niece and co-heiress of Henry Singleton, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, a marriage which brings him both wealth and influence. He quickly becomes one of the leaders of the Bar, partly through his legal ability and partly through his marriage into the wealthy and influential Singleton family. He is made a Bencher of the King’s Inns in 1742.

He sits in the Irish House of Commons as MP for Dublin University from 1739 to 1776 and then for the city of Armagh from 1776 until his death. He is elected as member for Armagh in 1768, but chooses to continue sitting for the University.

In 1742 Tisdall is appointed Third Serjeant, then Solicitor-General in 1751 and Attorney-General in 1760. He is also appointed judge of the Prerogative Court of Ireland, an office he holds from 1745 until his death. In 1763 he becomes Principal Secretary of State, and on February 28, 1764 he is appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland. For almost 20 years he is a crucial figure in the Irish Government, which relies on him on to manage the Irish House of Commons, a task which he performs with great skill and tact. Tisdall is almost all-powerful until 1767, when George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, arrives as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Townshend has a mandate to restore the direct power of the Crown over Irish affairs and to bypass the Irish managers like Tisdall. To his credit, Townshend recognises that Tisdall’s support is still an asset to the Government, and makes great efforts to conciliate him. Townshend lobbies hard for Tisdall to be appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, but comes up against the inflexible British reluctance, then and for many years after, to appoint an Irishman to this crucial office. He retains the confidence of successive Lords Lieutenants. In 1777, despite his age and failing health, he is asked to resume his role as Government leader in the House of Commons. He agrees, but dies at Spa, Belgium on September 11 of the same year.

Tisdall is strikingly dark in complexion, hence his nicknames “Black Phil” and “Philip the Moor,” and is described as “grave in manner and sardonic in temper.” Despite his somewhat forbidding appearance, he is a hospitable character, who is noted for entertaining lavishly, even when he is well into his seventies, both at his town house in South Leinster Street, and his country house at Stillorgan. John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, who succeeds him as Attorney General, writes that Tisdall would have lived longer if he had adopted a more sedate lifestyle in his later years.


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Birth of Father Ted, Dermot John Morgan

dermot-john-morganDermot John Morgan, Irish comedian and actor who achieves international renown for his role as Father Ted Crilly in the Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted, is born in Dublin on March 31, 1952.

Educated at Oatlands College, Stillorgan, and University College, Dublin (UCD), Morgan comes to prominence as part of the team behind the highly successful RTÉ television show The Live Mike. Morgan makes his debut in the media on the Morning Ireland radio show produced by Gene Martin. Between 1979 and 1982 Morgan, who has been a teacher at St. Michael’s College, Ailesbury Road, plays a range of comic characters who appear between segments of the show, including Father Trendy, an unctuous trying-to-be-cool Catholic priest given to drawing ludicrous parallels with non-religious life in two-minute ‘chats’ to camera.

Morgan’s success as Father Trendy and other characters leads him to leave teaching and become a full-time comedian.

Morgan’s biggest Irish broadcasting success occurs in the late 1980s on the Saturday morning radio comedy show Scrap Saturday, which mocks Ireland’s political, business, and media establishment. The show’s treatment of the relationship between the ever-controversial Taoiseach Charles Haughey and his press secretary P.J. Mara prove particularly popular. When RTÉ axes the show in the early 1990s a national outcry ensues. Morgan lashes the decision, calling it “a shameless act of broadcasting cowardice and political subservience.”

Already a celebrity in Ireland, Morgan’s big break comes in Channel 4‘s Irish sitcom Father Ted, which runs for three series from April 21, 1995 until May 1, 1998. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews audition many actors for the title role, but Morgan’s enthusiasm wins him the part.

Father Ted centres on three disparate characters. Father Ted Crilly, played by Morgan, lives a frustrated life trapped on the fictional Craggy Island. Irish TV comedy actor Frank Kelly plays Father Jack Hackett, a foul-mouthed and apparently brain-damaged alcoholic, while child-minded Father Dougal McGuire is played by comedian Ardal O’Hanlon. The three priests are looked after by their housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, played by Pauline McLynn, with whom Morgan had worked on Scrap Saturday. Father Ted enjoys widespread popularity and critical acclaim. In 1998, the show wins a BAFTA award for the best comedy, Morgan wins a BAFTA for best actor, and McLynn is named best actress.

On February 28, 1998, one day after recording the last episode of Father Ted, Morgan has a heart attack while hosting a dinner party at his home in southwest London. He is rushed to hospital but dies soon afterwards. Morgan’s Requiem Mass in St. Therese’s Church in Mount Merrion, south Dublin, is attended by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese, her predecessor, Mary Robinson, and by political and church leaders, many of whom had been the targets of his humour in Scrap Saturday. He is cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery and his ashes are buried in the family plot in Deansgrange Cemetery.