seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Revolutionary, Physician, Writer & Diplomat

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, writer, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist of Spanish-Irish descent, dies in La Higuera, Vallegrande, Bolivia, on October 9, 1967. After his execution by the Bolivian army, he is regarded as a martyred hero by generations of leftists worldwide, and his image becomes an icon of leftist radicalism and anti-imperialism.

Guevara is born on June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina, the eldest of five children in a middle-class family of Spanish-Irish descent and leftist leanings. Although suffering from asthma, he excels as an athlete and a scholar, completing his medical studies in 1953. He spends many of his holidays traveling in Latin America, and his observations of the great poverty of the masses contributes to his eventual conclusion that the only solution lay in violent revolution. He comes to look upon Latin America not as a collection of separate nations but as a cultural and economic entity, the liberation of which would require an intercontinental strategy.

In particular, Guevara’s worldview is changed by a nine-month journey he begins in December 1951, while on hiatus from medical school, with his friend Alberto Granado. That trip, which begins on a motorcycle they call “the Powerful” (which breaks down and is abandoned early in the journey), takes them from Argentina through Chile, Peru, Colombia, and on to Venezuela, from which Guevara travels alone on to Miami, returning to Argentina by plane. During the trip he keeps a journal that is posthumously published under his family’s guidance as The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey (2003) and adapted to film as The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).

In 1953 Guevara goes to Guatemala, where Jacobo Árbenz heads a progressive regime that is attempting to bring about a social revolution. It is about this time he acquires his nickname, from a verbal mannerism of Argentines who punctuate their speech with the interjection “che.” The overthrow of the Árbenz regime in 1954 in a coup supported by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) persuades him that the United States will always oppose progressive leftist governments. This becomes the cornerstone of his plans to bring about socialism by means of a worldwide revolution. It is in Guatemala that he becomes a dedicated Marxist.

Guevara leaves Guatemala for Mexico, where he meets the Cuban brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro, political exiles who are preparing an attempt to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. He joins Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, which lands a force of 81 men (including Guevara) in the Cuban Oriente Province on December 2, 1956. Immediately detected by Batista’s army, they are almost wiped out. The few survivors, including the wounded Guevara, reach the Sierra Maestra, where they become the nucleus of a guerrilla army. The rebels slowly gain in strength, seizing weapons from Batista’s forces and winning support and new recruits. Guevara had initially come along as the force’s doctor, but he has also trained in weapons use, and he becomes one of Castro’s most-trusted aides. Indeed, the complex Guevara, though trained as a healer, also, on occasion, acts as the executioner (or orders the execution) of suspected traitors and deserters.

After Castro’s victorious troops enter Havana on January 8, 1959, Guevara serves for several months at La Cabaña prison, where he oversees the executions of individuals deemed to be enemies of the revolution. He becomes a Cuban citizen, as prominent in the newly established Marxist government as he had been in the revolutionary army, representing Cuba on many commercial missions. He also becomes well known in the West for his opposition to all forms of imperialism and neocolonialism and for his attacks on U.S. foreign policy. He serves as chief of the Industrial Department of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, president of the National Bank of Cuba (famously demonstrating his disdain for capitalism by signing currency simply “Che”), and Minister of Industries.

During the early 1960s, Guevara defines Cuba’s policies and his own views in many speeches and writings, notably “El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba” (1965; “Man and Socialism in Cuba,” 1967), an examination of Cuba’s new brand of communism, and a highly influential manual, La guerra de guerrillas (1960; Guerrilla Warfare, 1961). The last book includes his delineation of his foco theory (foquismo), a doctrine of revolution in Latin America drawn from the experience of the Cuban Revolution and predicated on three main tenets: 1) guerrilla forces are capable of defeating the army; 2) all the conditions for making a revolution do not have to be in place to begin a revolution, because the rebellion itself can bring them about; and 3) the countryside of underdeveloped Latin America is suited for armed combat.

Guevara expounds a vision of a new socialist citizen who would work for the good of society rather than for personal profit, a notion he embodies through his own hard work. Often he sleeps in his office, and, in support of the volunteer labour program he had organized, he spends his day off working in a sugarcane field. He grows increasingly disheartened, however, as Cuba becomes a client state of the Soviet Union, and he feels betrayed by the Soviets when they remove their missiles from the island without consulting the Cuban leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. He begins looking to the People’s Republic of China and its leader Mao Zedong for support and as an example.

In December 1964 Guevara travels to New York City, where he condemns U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs and incursions into Cuban airspace in an address to the United Nations General Assembly. Back in Cuba, increasingly disillusioned with the direction of the Cuban social experiment and its reliance on the Soviets, he begins focusing his attention on fostering revolution elsewhere. After April 1965 he drops out of public life. His movements and whereabouts for the next two years remain secret. It is later learned that he had traveled to what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo with other Cuban guerrilla fighters in what proved to be a futile attempt to help the Patrice Lumumba battalion, which was fighting a civil war there. During that period he resigns his ministerial position in the Cuban government and renounces his Cuban citizenship. After the failure of his efforts in the Congo, he flees first to Tanzania and then to a safe house in a village near Prague.

In the autumn of 1966 Guevara goes to Bolivia, incognito (beardless and bald), to create and lead a guerrilla group in the region of Santa Cruz. After some initial combat successes, he and his guerrilla band find themselves constantly on the run from the Bolivian army. On October 9, 1967, the group is almost annihilated by a special detachment of the Bolivian army aided by CIA advisers. Guevara, who is wounded in the attack, is captured and shot. Before his body disappears to be secretly buried, his hands are cut off. They are preserved in formaldehyde so that his fingerprints can be used to confirm his identity.

In 1995 one of Guevara’s biographers, Jon Lee Anderson, announces that he had learned that Guevara and several of his comrades had been buried in a mass grave near the town of Vallegrande in central Bolivia. In 1997 a skeleton that is believed be that of the revolutionary and the remains of his six comrades are disinterred and transported to Cuba to be interred in a massive memorial and monument in Santa Clara on the 30th anniversary of Guevara’s death. In 2007 a French and a Spanish journalist make a case that the body brought to Cuba is not actually Guevara’s. The Cuban government refutes the claim, citing scientific evidence from 1997 that, it says, proves that the remains are those of Guevara.

Guevara would live on as a powerful symbol, bigger in some ways in death than in life. He is almost always referenced simply as Che — like Elvis Presley, so popular an icon that his first name alone is identifier enough. Many on the political right condemn him as brutal, cruel, murderous, and all too willing to employ violence to reach revolutionary ends. On the other hand, his romanticized image as a revolutionary looms especially large for the generation of young leftist radicals in Western Europe and North America in the turbulent 1960s. Almost from the time of his death, his whiskered face adorns T-shirts and posters. Framed by a red-star-studded beret and long hair, his face frozen in a resolute expression, the iconic image is derived from a photo taken by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda on March 5, 1960, at a ceremony for those killed when a ship that had brought arms to Havana exploded. At first the image of Che is worn as a statement of rebellion, then as the epitome of radical chic, and, with the passage of time, as a kind of abstract logo whose original significance may even have been lost on its wearer, though for some he remains an enduring inspiration for revolutionary action.


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Birth of Edel Quinn, Roman Catholic Lay Missionary

Edel Mary Quinn, Roman Catholic lay missionary and Envoy of the Legion of Mary to East Africa, is born in Castlemagner, County Cork, on September 14, 1907.

Quinn is the eldest child of bank official Charles Quinn and Louisa Burke Browne of County Clare. She is a great-granddaughter of William Quinn, a native of County Tyrone who settled in Tuam to build St. Mary’s Cathedral.

During Quinn’s childhood, her father’s career brought the family to various towns in Ireland, including Tralee, County Kerry, where a plaque is unveiled in May 2009 at Bank Of Ireland House in Denny Street commemorating her residence there between 1921 and 1924. She attends the Presentation Convent in the town between 1921-1925.

Quinn feels a call to religious life at a young age. She wishes to join the Poor Clares but is prevented by advanced tuberculosis. After spending eighteen months in a sanatorium, her condition unchanged, she decides to become active in the Legion of Mary, which she joins in Dublin at the age of 20. She gives herself completely to its work in the form of helping the poor in the slums of Dublin.

In 1936, at the age of 29 and dying of tuberculosis, Quinn becomes a Legion of Mary Envoy, a very active missionary to East and Central Africa, departing in December 1936 for Mombasa. She settles in Nairobi having been told by Bishop Heffernan that this is the most convenient base for her work. By the outbreak of World War II, she is working as far off as Dar es Salaam and Mauritius. In 1941, she is admitted to a sanatorium near Johannesburg. Fighting her illness, in seven and a half years she establishes hundreds of Legion branches and councils in today’s Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and Mauritius. John Joseph “J.J.” McCarthy, later Bishop of Zanzibar and Archbishop of Nairobi, writes of her:

“Miss Quinn is an extraordinary individual; courageous, zealous and optimistic. She wanders around in a dilapidated Ford, having for sole companion an African driver. When she returns home she will be qualified to speak about the Missions and Missionaries, having really more experience than any single Missionary I know.”

All this time Quinn’s health is never good, and in 1943 she takes a turn for the worse, dying in Nairobi, Kenya of tuberculosis on May 12, 1944. She is buried there in the Missionaries’ Cemetery.

The cause for her beatification is introduced in 1956. She is declared venerable by Pope John Paul II on December 15, 1994, since when the campaign for her beatification has continued.


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Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.