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


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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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Birth of Michael Corcoran, Union Army General

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded, and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


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Death of William R. Grace, Irish American Politician

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Russell_Grace.jpgWilliam Russell Grace, Irish American politician, the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York City, and the founder of W. R. Grace and Company, dies in New York City on March 21, 1904.

Grace is born on May 10, 1832 in Ireland in Riverstown near the Cove of Cork to James Grace and Eleanor May Russell (née Ellen) while the family is away from home. He is raised on Grace property at Ballylinan in Queens County, now County Laois, near the town of Athy. He is a member of a prominent and well-to-do family. In 1846, he sails for New York against the wishes of his father, and works as a printer’s devil and a shoemaker’s helper before returning to Ireland in 1848.

His nephew, Cecil Grace, attempts a crossing of the English Channel in December 1910 in an airplane, flying from Dover to Calais. However, in coming back he becomes disoriented and over Dover flies northeast over the Goodwin Sands toward the North Sea and is lost.

Grace and his father travel to Callao, Peru, in 1851, seeking to establish an Irish agricultural community. While his father returns home, William remains and begins work with the firm of John Bryce and Co., as a ship chandler. In 1854, the company is renamed Bryce, Grace & Company, in 1865, to Grace Brothers & Co., and ultimately to W. R. Grace and Company.

On September 11, 1859, Grace is married to Lillius Gilchrist, the daughter of George W. Gilchrist, a prominent ship builder of Thomaston, Maine, and Mary Jane (née Smalley) Gilchrest. Together, they have eleven children.

Opposing the famous Tammany Hall, Grace is elected as the first Irish American Catholic mayor of New York City in 1880. He conducts a reform administration attacking police scandals, patronage and organized vice, reduces the tax rate, and breaks up the Louisiana State Lottery Company. Defeated in the following election, he is re-elected in 1884 on an Independent ticket but loses again at the following election. During his second term, he receives the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France.

Grace is a renowned philanthropist and humanitarian, at one point contributing a quarter of the aid delivered to Ireland aboard the steamship Constellation during the Irish Famine of 1879. In 1897, he and his brother, Michael, found the Grace Institute for the education of women, especially immigrants.

William R. Grace dies on March 21, 1904 at his residence, 31 East 79th Street, in New York City. His funeral is held at St. Francis Xavier Church on West 16th Street and he is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. At the time of his death his estate is valued at $25,000,000.


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Birth of William O’Dwyer, 100th Mayor of New York City

william-o-dwyerWilliam O’Dwyer, Irish American politician and diplomat who serves as the 100th Mayor of New York City, holding that office from 1946 to 1950, is born in Bohola, County Mayo on July 11, 1890.

O’Dwyer studies at St. Nathys College, Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon. He emigrates to the United States in 1910, after abandoning studies for the priesthood. He sails to New York City as a steerage passenger on board the liner Philadelphia and is inspected at Ellis Island on June 27, 1910. He first works as a laborer, then as a New York City police officer, while studying law at night at Fordham University Law School. He receives his degree in 1923 and then builds a successful practice before serving as a Kings County (Brooklyn) Court judge. He wins election as the Kings County District Attorney in November 1939 and his prosecution of the organized crime syndicate known as Murder, Inc. makes him a national celebrity.

After losing the mayoral election to Fiorello La Guardia in 1941, O’Dwyer joins the United States Army for World War II, achieving the rank of brigadier general as a member of the Allied Commission for Italy and executive director of the War Refugee Board, for which he receives the Legion of Merit. During that time, he is on leave from his elected position as district attorney and replaced by his chief assistant, Thomas Cradock Hughes, and is re-elected in November 1943.

In 1945, O’Dwyer receives the support of Tammany Hall leader Edward V. Loughlin, wins the Democratic nomination, and then easily wins the mayoral election. He establishes the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Park Commissioner Robert Moses to the post, works to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan, presides over the first billion-dollar New York City budget, creates a traffic department and raises the subway fare from five cents to ten cents. In 1948, he receives The Hundred Year Association of New York‘s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.” In 1948, he receives the epithets “Whirling Willie” and “Flip-Flop Willie” from U.S. Representative Vito Marcantonio of the opposition American Labor Party while the latter is campaigning for Henry A. Wallace.

Shortly after his re-election to the mayoralty in 1949, O’Dwyer is confronted with a police corruption scandal uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. O’Dwyer resigns from office on August 31, 1950. Upon his resignation, he is given a ticker tape parade up Broadway‘s Canyon of Heroes in the borough of Manhattan. President Harry Truman appoints him U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He returns to New York City in 1951 to answer questions concerning his association with organized crime figures and the accusations follow him for the rest of his life. He resigns as ambassador on December 6, 1952, but remains in Mexico until 1960.

O’Dwyer visits Israel for 34 days in 1951 on behalf of his Jewish constituents. Along with New York’s Jewish community, he helps organize the first Israel Day Parade.

William O’Dwyer dies in New York City on November 24, 1964, in Beth Israel Hospital, aged 74, from heart failure. He is interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 2, Grave 889-A-RH.


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Birth of Barrister Alexander Martin Sullivan

alexander-martin-sullivanAlexander Martin Sullivan, Irish lawyer best known as the leading counsel for the defence in the 1916 treason trial of Roger Casement, is born in Dublin on January 14, 1871. He is the last barrister in either Ireland or England to hold the rank of Serjeant-at-Law, hence his nickname The Last Serjeant.

A younger son of A.M. Sullivan and Frances Donovan, Sullivan is educated at Ushaw College, Belvedere College, Trinity College, Dublin and King’s Inns. He is called to the Irish Bar in 1892 and practises on the Munster Circuit.

Sullivan is appointed an Irish KC in 1908 and King’s Third Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) in 1912 advancing to Second Serjeant in 1913 and First Serjeant in 1919, the last holder of that position.

A moderate constitutional nationalist and supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sullivan is a prominent campaigner for the recruitment of Irishmen into the British Army during World War I. His opposition to Sinn Féin republicanism and his prominent role in conducting prosecutions on behalf of the Crown during the Irish War of Independence lead to at least one attempt on his life. As a result, he relocates to England in 1921 and establishes a career at the English Bar, having previously been called to the Middle Temple in 1899. He subsequently becomes a Bencher and Treasurer of Middle Temple. By courtesy, he is always referred to as Serjeant Sullivan, even though that rank no longer exists in England.

Sullivan remains a member of the Irish Bar, and returns at least once to appear in the celebrated case of Croker v Croker, where the children of the former leader of Tammany Hall, Richard “Boss” Croker attempt to overturn his will, which leaves his entire estate to their stepmother.

Sullivan is noted as a fearless advocate, who brings to his English practice the robust manners he had learned in the Irish county courts. He does not hesitate to interrupt the judge, and if he feels that he is not receiving a fair hearing, he is quite capable of walking out of Court.

In 1916 Sullivan is retained as lead counsel in the trial of Sir Roger Casement for treason. No English barrister will defend Casement, and Sullivan is persuaded to take the case by George Gavan Duffy, whose wife Margaret is Sullivan’s sister. Despite his rank of Serjeant at law and King’s Counsel at the Irish bar he is only ranked as a junior barrister in England. As the facts relied on by the prosecution are largely undisputed, Sullivan is limited to arguing a technical defence that the Treason Act 1351 only applies to acts committed “within the realm” and not outside it. The Act’s terms had however been expanded by case law over the previous 560 years, and the defence is rejected by the trial judges and by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Sullivan writes two books: Old Ireland in 1927 and The Last Serjeant in 1952. He retires from legal practice in 1949. He dies on January 9, 1959.