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


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Death of Thomas Dongan, Governor of the Province of New York

Thomas Dongan, 2nd Earl of Limerick, a member of the Irish Parliament, Royalist military officer during the English Civil War, and Governor of the Province of New York, dies in London on December 14, 1715. He is noted for having called the first representative legislature in New York and for granting the province’s Charter of Liberties.

Dongan is born in 1634 into an old Gaelic Norman (Irish Catholic) family in Castletown Kildrought (now Celbridge), County Kildare. He is the seventh and youngest son of Sir John Dongan, Baronet, Member of the Irish Parliament, and his wife Mary Talbot, daughter of Sir William Talbot, 1st Baronet and Alison Netterville. As Stuart supporters, following the overthrow of King Charles I, the family goes to King Louis XIV‘s France, although they manage to hold onto at least part of their Irish estates. His family gives their name to the Dongan Dragoons, a premier military regiment.

While in France, Dongan serves in an Irish regiment with Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne. He stays in France after the Restoration and achieves the rank of colonel in 1674.

After the Treaty of Nijmegen ends the Franco-Dutch War in 1678, Dongan returns to England in obedience to the order that recalls all English subjects fighting in service to France. Fellow officer James, Duke of York, arranges to have him granted a high-ranking commission in the army designated for service in Flanders and a pension. That same year, he is appointed Lieutenant-Governor of English Tangier, which had been granted to England as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. He serves as part of the Tangier Garrison which defends the settlement.

In September 1682, James, Lord Proprietor of the Province of New York, appoints Dongan as Vice-admiral in the Navy and provincial governor (1683–1688) to replace Edmund Andros. James also grants him an estate on Staten Island. The estate eventually becomes the town of Castleton. Later, another section of the island is named Dongan Hills in honour of Dongan.

Dongan lands in Boston on August 10, 1683, crosses Long Island Sound, and passes through the small settlements in the eastern part of the island as he makes his way to Fort James, arriving on August 25.

At the time of Dongan’s appointment, the province is bankrupt and in a state of rebellion. He is able to restore order and stability. On October 14, 1683, he convenes the first-ever representative assembly in New York history at Fort James. The New York General Assembly, under the wise supervision of Dongan, passes an act entitled “A Charter of Liberties.” It decrees that the supreme legislative power under the Duke of York shall reside in a governor, council, and the people convened in general assembly; confers upon the members of the assembly rights and privileges making them a body coequal to and independent of the British Parliament; establishes town, county, and general courts of justice; solemnly proclaims the right of religious liberty; and passes acts enunciating certain constitutional liberties; right of suffrage; and no martial law or quartering of the soldiers without the consent of the inhabitants.

Dongan soon incurs the ill will of William Penn who is negotiating with the Iroquois for the purchase of the upper Susquehanna Valley. Dongan goes to Albany, and declares that the sale would be “prejudicial to His Highness’s interests.” The Cayugas sell the property to New York with the consent of the Mohawk. Years later, when back in England and in favor at the Court of James, Penn uses his influence to prejudice the king against Dongan.

On July 22, 1686 Governor Dongan grants Albany a municipal charter. Almost identical in form to the charter awarded to New York City just three months earlier, the Albany charter is the result of negotiations conducted between royal officials and Robert Livingston and Pieter Schuyler. The charter incorporates the city of Albany, establishing a separate municipal entity in the midst of the Van Rensselaer Manor.

Dongan establishes the boundary lines of the province by settling disputes with Connecticut on the east, with the French Governor of Canada on the north, and with Pennsylvania on the south, thus marking out the present limits of New York State.

James later consolidates the colonial governments of New York, New Jersey and the United Colonies of New England into the Dominion of New England and appoints Edmund Andros, the former Governor-General of New York, as Governor-General. Dongan transfers his governorship back to Andros on August 11, 1688.

Dongan executes land grants establishing several towns throughout New York State including the eastern Long Island communities of East Hampton and Southampton. These grants, called the Dongan Patents, set up Town Trustees as the governing bodies with a mission of managing common land for common good. The Dongan Patents still hold force of law and have been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States with the Trustees—rather than town boards, city councils or even the State Legislature—still managing much of the common land in the state.

Dongan lives in London for the last years of his life and dies on December 14, 1715. He is buried in the St. Pancras Old Church churchyard, London.

(Pictured: Portrait of Thomas Dongan, 2nd Earl of Limerick, from Castleton Manor, Staten Island licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


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Birth of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Activist & Feminist

elizabeth-gurley-flynnElizabeth Gurley Flynn, labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is born in Concord, New Hampshire on August 7, 1890. She is a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women’s rights, birth control, and women’s suffrage.

Flynn’s family moves to New York in 1900, where she is educated in the local public schools. She grows up being regaled by tales of Irish revolutionaries. According to their oral tradition all four of her great-grandfathers, Flynn, Gurley, Conneran, and Ryan, are members of the Society of United Irishmen, with grandfather Flynn being one of the leaders in County Mayo when the French fleet lands there during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Her parents introduce her to socialism. When she is only fifteen she gives her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club.

In 1907, Flynn becomes a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World. Over the next few years she organizes campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Missoula, Montana, and Spokane, Washington and textile workers in Massachusetts. She is arrested ten times during this period but is never convicted of any criminal activity. It is a plea bargain, on the other hand, that results in her expulsion from the IWW in 1916, along with fellow organizer Joe Ettor.

A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920, Flynn plays a leading role in the campaign against the conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. She is particularly concerned with women’s rights, supporting birth control and women’s suffrage. She also criticizes the leadership of trade unions for being male-dominated and not reflecting the needs of women.

Between 1926 and 1936, Flynn lives in southwest Portland, Oregon with birth control activist, suffragette, and Wobbly Marie Equi where she is an active and vocal supporter of the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen’s Strike. In 1936, she joins the Communist Party and writes a feminist column for its journal, the Daily Worker. Two years later, she is elected to the national committee. Her membership in the Party leads to her ouster from the board of the ACLU in 1940.

During World War II, Flynn plays an important role in the campaign for equal economic opportunity and pay for women and the establishment of day care centers for working mothers. In 1942, she runs for the United States Congress at-large in New York and receives 50,000 votes. In July 1948, a dozen leaders of the Communist Party are arrested and accused of violating the Smith Act by advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. After they are convicted in the Foley Square trial they appeal to the Supreme Court, which upholds their conviction in Dennis v. United States.

Flynn launches a campaign for their release but, in June 1951, is herself arrested in the second wave of arrests and prosecuted under the Smith Act. After a nine-month trial, she is found guilty and serves two years in Federal Prison Camp, Alderson near Alderson, West Virginia. She later writes a prison memoir, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner.

After her release from prison, Flynn resumes her activities for leftist and Communist causes. She runs for the New York City Council as a Communist in 1957, garnering a total of 710 votes. She becomes national chairwoman of the Communist Party of the United States in 1961 and makes several visits to the Soviet Union.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn dies on September 5, 1964, while on one of her visits to the Soviet Union. The Soviet government gives her a state funeral in Red Square with over 25,000 people attending. In accordance with her wishes, her remains are flown to the United States for burial in Chicago‘s German Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman, and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.

In 1978, the ACLU posthumously reinstates her membership.


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Deportation of Joe Doherty

joseph-dohertyJoe Doherty, a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a member of the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980, is arrested in the United States in 1983 and is deported to Northern Ireland by the U.S. government on February 19, 1992. A first season episode of Law & Order entitled “The Troubles” is based on his case.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of their four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol and ultimately escape in waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the FBI on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Captain Herbert Westmacott was a political act. In 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty can not be extradited as the killing is a “political offense.” Doherty’s legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and on June 15, 1988 Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush. In 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 Doherty is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor.

Doherty is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze. He is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release Doherty becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.


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Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Approved

eighth-amendmentThe Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which introduces a constitutional ban on abortion by recognizing a right to life of an unborn child, is approved by referendum on September 7, 1983 and signed into law on October 7 of the same year. It is often referred to as the Irish Pro-Life Amendment.

The amendment is adopted during the Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government led by Garret FitzGerald but is drafted and first suggested by the previous Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey. The amendment is supported by Fianna Fáil and some of Fine Gael, and is generally opposed by the political left. Most of those opposed to the amendment, however, insist that they are not in favour of legalising abortion. The Roman Catholic hierarchy supports the amendment, but it is opposed by the other mainstream churches. After an acrimonious referendum campaign, the amendment is passed by 67% voting in favour to 33% voting against.

Under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, abortion is already illegal in Ireland. However, anti-abortion campaigners fear the possibility of a judicial ruling in favour of allowing abortion. In McGee v. Attorney General (1973), the Supreme Court of Ireland had ruled against provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 prohibiting the sale and importation of contraception on the grounds that the reference in Article 41 to the “imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law” of the family conferred upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. In the same year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on similar grounds in Roe v. Wade to find a right to an abortion grounded on privacy.

The Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC) is founded in 1981 to campaign against a ruling in in Ireland similar to Roe. Prior to the 1981 general election, PLAC lobbies the major Irish political parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Labour Party – to urge the introduction of a Bill to allow the amendment to the constitution to prevent the Irish Supreme Court so interpreting the constitution as giving a right to abortion. The leaders of the three parties – respectively Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, and Frank Cluskey – agree although there is little consultation with any of their parties’ ordinary members. All three parties are in government over the following eighteen months but it is only in late 1982, just before the collapse of a Fianna Fáil minority government, that a proposed wording for the amendment is produced.

The referendum is supported by PLAC, Fianna Fáil, some members of Fine Gael, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy and opposed by various groups under the umbrella name of the Anti-Amendment Campaign (AAC), including Labour senator, and future President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, feminist campaigners, and trade unions.

There is currently a campaign for repeal of the Eighth Amendment in Ireland. This is led by both a coalition of human rights and pro-choice groups and has widespread support from a number of legal academics and members of the medical profession. In the run up to the 2016 general election, a number of parties commit to a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and a group of feminist law academics publish model legislation to show what a post-Eighth Amendment abortion law could look like. In June 2016, Minister for Health Simon Harris states his support for a referendum on repealing the 8th.

On July 27, 2016, the government appoints Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy as chair of a Citizens’ Assembly to consider a number of topics, including the Eighth Amendment.