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


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Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


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Birth of Poet Francis Edward Ledwidge

Francis Edward Ledwidge, Irish poet sometimes known as the “poet of the blackbirds,” is born on August 19, 1887 to a poor family in Slane, County Meath. He is later also known as a World War I war poet.

Ledwidge starts writing at an early age, and is first published in a local newspaper at the age of fourteen. Finding work as a labourer and miner, he is also a trade union activist and a keen patriot and nationalist, associated with Sinn Féin. He becomes friendly with a local landowner, the writer Lord Dunsany, who gives him a workspace in the library of Dunsany Castle and introduces him to literary figures including William Butler Yeats and Katharine Tynan, with whom he has a long-term correspondence. He is elected to a local authority post and helps organise the local branch of the Irish Volunteers, while Dunsany edits and helps him secure publication for a first volume of his poetry.

Having sided with the faction of the Irish Volunteers which oppose participation in the war, he enlists in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, and continues to write poetry on assignment, sending work to Lord Dunsany and to family and other friends. The poems he writes on active service reveal his pride at being a soldier, as he believes, in the service of Ireland. He often wonders whether he would find a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, Ypres Salient, Belgium.

According to Irish author and lecturer Alice Curtayne, “Ledwidge and his comrades had been toiling since the early morning at road-making. The army’s first need was men; their second, guns; their third roads. These latter consisted mainly of heavy beech planks bolted together, which could be rapidly laid down. No advance could be supported in that sodden land without a sufficiency of these communications tracks, six or seven feet wide. Supplies were conveyed by pack mules over the wooden paths. Survivors concur in placing the road work done by B Company that day one mile northeast of Hellfire Corner, so called because it was very exposed to German shelling. There was a violent rainstorm in the afternoon, shrouding the region in a gray monochrome. Sullenly, the enemy’s long-range guns continued to fling their shells far behind the lines. Road-work could not be suspended, however, as the tracks were in use as fast as they were laid down. Tea was issued to the men and, drenched to the skin, they stopped to swallow it. A shell exploded beside Ledwidge and he was instantly killed.”

A Roman Catholic military chaplain, Father Devas, is the first on the scene. That night, Father Devas writes in his diary, “Crowds at Holy Communion. Arranged for service but washed out by rain and fatigues. Walk in rain with dogs. Ledwidge killed, blown to bits; at Confession yesterday and Mass and Holy Communion this morning. R.I.P.”

Ledwidge is first buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, at Boezinge, where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in action on the same day, also lies buried.

Dunsany arranges for the publication of more of Ledwidge’s poems, and a collected edition in 1919. Further poems, from the archives at Dunsany Castle and some material held by family, are later published by Ledwdige’s biographer, Alice Curtayne, and by one of the Ledwidge memorial societies. Ledwidge is selected as one of twelve prominent war poets for the exhibition Anthem for Doomed Youth at the Imperial War Museum in London in 2002, and memorialised at an event in Inchicore, Dublin, in 2017, with his work set to music by Anúna. A museum of his life and work is opened in his birthplace cottage in 1982. Some of his manuscripts are held in the National Library of Ireland and more in the archives of Dunsany Castle.


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Birth of Margaret (May) Tennant, Promoter of Workers’ Rights & Public Health

Margaret Mary Edith (May) Tennant (née Abraham), promoter of workers’ rights and public health, is born April 5, 1869 at Rathgar, County Dublin, the only daughter of Dr. George Whitley Abraham, a lawyer in the civil service, and his wife, Margaret, daughter of Cornelius Curtain.

Abraham is educated at home by her father. Following his death in 1887, finding herself in financial straits, she moves to London, where she takes lodgings in Bloomsbury and works for Lady Emilia Dilke. Dilke is a social reformer and an advocate of trade unions for women, and as her secretary Margaret gains first-hand experience of the exploitative and unsanitary conditions afflicting women working in industry, a cause that she devotes the next decade to ameliorating. She is treasurer of the Womens’ Trade Union League, where she negotiates with employers on behalf of league members, organises meetings, and sends deputations to the House of Commons. From 1881 she coordinates a successful campaign to render regular government inspections of laundries mandatory (legislation is passed to this effect in 1908).

Abraham’s dedication to her work soon attracts wider recognition, and in 1891 she is appointed an assistant commissioner to undertake field inquiries for the Royal Labour Commission. In this capacity she travels incessantly throughout England and Ireland, gathering information and writing reports on often appalling working conditions. It is mainly because of this work that in 1893 the home secretary appoints her the first female factory inspector in England. Her new position marks a career shift from agitator to skillful and effective administrator. Traveling incessantly, the inspectors target illegal overtime, poor sanitation, and dangerous trades. In her first year alone she brings eighty prosecutions for illegal overtime.

In 1895 Abraham serves on a departmental committee at the Home Office on dangerous trades, where she meets Harold John Tennant, liberal MP for Berwickshire. The couple are married the following year, and have four sons and one daughter.

By 1896 Tennant is the superintending inspector of five more women inspectors, and her extensive experience in workers’ rights and public health is reflected in the book she publishes in that year, The law relating to factories and workshops, which runs to six editions. She finds it increasingly difficult to balance the pressures of her work with the demands of her private life, and she resigns her post soon after her marriage. However, she remains a committed social activist, serving as chairman of the Industrial Law Committee and on the Royal Commission on Divorce (1909). She is also an original member and treasurer of the Central Committee on Women’s Employment (1914–39).

During the World War I Tennant is chief adviser on women’s welfare to the Ministry of Munitions and director of the Women’s Department of the National Service Department. In recognition of her services the British government awards her the Companion of Honour in 1917, the same year that her eldest son, Harry, dies while on active service. Between the wars she turns her attention to women’s health, campaigning to improve maternal mortality and nursing care.

During the World War II, despite her failing health, Tennant works for the RAF Benevolent Fund. She is a member of the Central Consultative Council of Voluntary Organisations and the National Association for Prevention of Tuberculosis, chairman of the maternal health committee, governor of Bedford College, and a JP. She is also a director of the Mysore and Champion Reef Gold Mines, an enterprise of her husband’s family, and in this capacity travels to India and New Zealand in the mid-1920s.

The Tennants have homes in Edinglasserie, Aberdeenshire, and at 12 Victoria Square, London, as well as a restored country house, Great Maytham, at Rolvenden in Kent. She is a noted authority on gardening, and is director of The Gardener’s Chronicle (other interests included fishing, tennis, and gambling). After her husband’s death in 1935 she moves to a smaller house named Cornhill at Great Maytham, where she dies on July 11, 1946. Some of her correspondence is in the British Library, London.

(From: “Tennant (née Abraham), Margaret Mary Edith (May),” contributed by Sinéad Sturgeon and Georgina Clinton, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Charles McCarthy, Trade Unionist & Academic

Charles McCarthy, trade unionist and academic, is born on January 25, 1924, at 12 Annmount, Friars Walk, Cork, County Cork.

McCarthy is the second child of John George McCarthy of Cork, plumber, and Agnes Abina McCarthy (née O’Donoghue). He is educated at Presentation Brothers College, Cork, University College Dublin (UCD), and King’s Inns, where he enrolls in 1948. He is called to the bar in 1956.

On June 7, 1951, McCarthy marries Muriel, daughter of Liam Breslin. She becomes (1989) keeper of Marsh’s Library, Dublin, receives an honorary LL.D from National University of Ireland (NUI), and is also made an honorary lay canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. They live at 367 Howth Road, Raheny, Dublin, and have one son and two daughters.

After graduating from UCD McCarthy briefly works as a clerk on a building site and as an insurance agent before becoming an actor with the Radio Éireann Repertory in 1947. During his time with Radio Éireann he also writes four plays, one of which, entitled Jericho’s trumpets, is based on his experiences in the insurance industry. He is later employed as a speech and drama teacher by Cork vocational educational committee. At the same time, he develops an interest in industrial relations as treasurer of the actors’ trade union Equity and then as secretary of the Civil Service Alliance. In 1956 he becomes full-time general secretary of the Vocational Teacher’s Association, which later becomes the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). Through this post he eventually becomes president (1963–64) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and sits on the executive committee for ten years. As secretary to the International Committee of Technical Teachers he organises conferences around the world and develops countless international contacts.

In 1968 McCarthy publishes his first book, The distasteful challenge. A damning indictment of the static nature of Irish society at the time, it stresses the need to face up to change, particularly in the areas of education, the civil service, and local government. This is followed in 1971 by Industrial democracy. The following year he takes a leave of absence from the TUI to become a research fellow at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). In 1973 his dedication to the arts is rewarded with a seat (1973–76) on the RTÉ Authority and in the same year he publishes Decade of upheaval, which documents the experiences of the trade union movement during the turbulent era of the 1960s. In 1977 he becomes a lecturer in industrial relations at TCD and his 670-page magnum opus, Trade unions in Ireland, 1894–1960, is published to critical acclaim. In 1979 he is appointed to the chair in industrial relations at TCD and becomes head of the school of business and administrative studies. He is later appointed dean of the faculty of economic and social studies and made a fellow of TCD.

McCarthy is a firm believer in resolving industrial relations problems through negotiation. Both unions and management alike respect his views and abilities and he is frequently called on by the private and public sectors, as well as governments, to use his expertise to bring an end to protracted disputes. He sits on numerous public bodies including the National Industrial & Economic Council and the Irish National Productivity Committee. In 1985 his ability to bridge the divide between management and unions is recognised with his election to the council of the Irish Management Institute. Despite his career in industrial relations he maintains his interest in drama and is an original shareholder in the new Abbey Theatre. In 1973 he is appointed to the board of the theatre, serving as chairman from 1982–85. He is also a member of the board of governors and guardians of Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin.

McCarthy dies on September 8, 1986 in Dublin of atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries.

(From: “McCarthy, Charles” contributed by Shaun Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Irish Poet Francis Edward Ledwidge

Francis Edward Ledwidge, Irish poet from County Meath, sometimes known as the “poet of the blackbirds,” is killed in action He was later also known as a World War I war poet. He was killed in action on July 31, 1917 at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge near Boezinge, Ypres Salient, Belgium.

Born on August 19, 1887 to a poor family in Slane, County Meath, Ledwidge starts writing at an early age, and is first published in a local newspaper at the age of fourteen. Finding work as a labourer and miner, he is also a trade union activist and a keen patriot and nationalist, associated with Sinn Féin. He becomes friendly with a local landowner, the writer Lord Dunsany, who gives him a workspace in the library of Dunsany Castle and introduces him to literary figures including William Butler Yeats and Katherine Tynan, with whom he has a long-term correspondence. He is elected to a local authority post and helps organise the local branch of the Irish Volunteers, while Dunsany edits and helps him secure publication for a first volume of his poetry.

Having sided with the faction of the Irish Volunteers which oppose participation in the war, he enlists in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, and continues to write poetry on assignment, sending work to Lord Dunsany and to family and other friends. The poems he writes on active service reveal his pride at being a soldier, as he believes, in the service of Ireland. He often wonders whether he would find a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, northwest of Ypres.

According to Irish author and lecturer Alice Curtayne, “Ledwidge and his comrades had been toiling since the early morning at road-making. The army’s first need was men; their second, guns; their third roads. These latter consisted mainly of heavy beech planks bolted together, which could be rapidly laid down. No advance could be supported in that sodden land without a sufficiency of these communications tracks, six or seven feet wide. Supplies were conveyed by pack mules over the wooden paths. Survivors concur in placing the road work done by B Company that day one mile northeast of Hellfire Corner, so called because it was very exposed to German shelling. There was a violent rainstorm in the afternoon, shrouding the region in a gray monochrome. Sullenly, the enemy’s long-range guns continued to fling their shells far behind the lines. Road-work could not be suspended, however, as the tracks were in use as fast as they were laid down. Tea was issued to the men and, drenched to the skin, they stopped to swallow it. A shell exploded beside Ledwidge and he was instantly killed.”

A Roman Catholic military chaplain, Father Devas, is the first on the scene. That night, Father Devas writes in his diary, “Crowds at Holy Communion. Arranged for service but washed out by rain and fatigues. Walk in rain with dogs. Ledwidge killed, blown to bits; at Confession yesterday and Mass and Holy Communion this morning. R.I.P.”

Ledwidge is first buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, at Boezinge, where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in action on the same day, also lies buried.

Dunsany arranges for the publication of more of Ledwidge’s poems, and a collected edition in 1919. Further poems, from the archives at Dunsany Castle and some material held by family, are later published by Ledwdige’s biographer, Alice Curtayne, and by one of the Ledwidge memorial societies. Ledwidge is selected as one of twelve prominent war poets for the exhibition Anthem for Doomed Youth at the Imperial War Museum in London in 2002, and memorialised at an event in Inchicore, Dublin, in 2017, with his work set to music by Anúna. A museum of his life and work is opened in his birthplace cottage in 1982. Some of his manuscripts are held in the National Library of Ireland and more in the archives of Dunsany Castle.


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Birth of David Bleakley, Northern Ireland Politician

David Wylie Bleakley, politician and peace campaigner in Northern Ireland, is born in the Strandtown district of Belfast, Northern Ireland on January 11, 1925.

Bleakley works as an electrician in the Harland and Wolff dockyards while becoming increasingly active in his trade union. He studies economics at Ruskin College in Oxford, where he strikes up a friendship with C. S. Lewis, about whom he later writes a centenary memoir. He later attends Queen’s University Belfast. A committed Christian, he is a lifelong Anglican – a member of the Church of Ireland. Throughout his life, he is a lay preacher.

Bleakley joins the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) and contests the Northern Ireland Parliament seat of Belfast Victoria in 1949 and 1953 before finally winning it in 1958. At Stormont, he is made the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, but he loses his seat in 1965. He is head of the department of economics and political studies at Methodist College Belfast from 1969 to 1979.

Bleakley runs for the Westminster seat of Belfast East in 1970 (gaining 41% of the vote), February 1974 and October 1974 for the Northern Ireland Labour Party each time, but never enough to win the Westminister seat from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). In 1971, Brian Faulkner appoints him as his Minister for Community Relations at Stormont, but as Bleakley is not an MP, he can only hold the post for six months. He resigns five days before his term expires in order to highlight his disagreement with government policy, specifically the failure to widen the government to include non-Unionist parties, and the decision to introduce internment. He writes a respectful biography of Faulkner and his own memoir of the period.

After the Parliament is abolished, Bleakley stands for, and is elected to, the Northern Ireland Assembly and its successor, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention. He stands again for Belfast East in the February and October UK general elections, but wins only 14% of the vote each time.

By the late 1970s, the NILP is in disarray, and does not stand a candidate for the 1979 European Assembly election. Bleakley instead stands as an “Independent Community Candidate,” but takes only 1.6% of the votes cast.

During the 1980s, Bleakley sits as a non-partisan member of various quangos. From 1980 to 1992 he is general secretary of the Irish Council of Churches. In 1992, he joins the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and is an advisor to the group during the all-party talks. For the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum election, he is a prominent member of the Democratic Partnership list and stands in Belfast East, but is not elected. In 1998, he joins the Labour Party of Northern Ireland and stands in Belfast East in the Assembly elections, receiving 369 first preference votes.

Bleakley dies in Belfast at the age of 92 on June 26, 2017.


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Birth of John Fitzpatrick, Trade Union Leader

John Fitzpatrick, Irish-born American trade union leader, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on April 21, 1871. He is best remembered as the longtime head of the powerful Chicago Federation of Labor, from 1906 until his death in 1946.

Fitzpatrick attends grammar school in Ireland before coming to the United States in 1882, at the age of eleven, settling in Chicago. Following completion of his formal education, he goes to work as a horseshoer, becoming involved in the International Journeyman Horseshoers’ Union (IJHU), with which he remains affiliated for the next three decades.

Fitzpatrick serves variously as the President, Treasurer, and business agent for the Chicago local of the IJHU, being selected as a delegate to conventions of the union as well as its representative to the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This connection is instrumental in his appointment as the organizer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, city affiliate of the AFL, in 1902. Additionally, he is elected President of that organization in 1906 and remains in the capacity of President and Organizer throughout the ensuing half century.

Fitzpatrick is widely regarded as a progressive voice in the trade union movement, active in political fights beyond the ordinary hours-and-wages concerns which have traditionally dominated the union movement. He is active in the defense campaign on behalf of accused bomber Thomas Mooney, and is active in helping to organize packing house workers and steel workers in 1919.

During these campaigns, Fitzpatrick comes into close contact with radical trade union organizer William Z. Foster, founder of the Trade Union Educational League and outspoken advocate of the amalgamation of the hodge-podge of existing craft unions into unified, and thus more effective, industrial unions.

Fitzpatrick is also an advocate of independent labor politics and is one of the organizers of the Illinois Labor Party as well as its local affiliate, the Cook County Labor party. In November 1919, he runs for mayor of Chicago on the ticket of the Cook County Labor Party and receives a substantial vote of 60,000 of the 580,000 ballots cast. Bolstered by the degree of support which the new organization receives from voters, Fitzpatrick calls a national convention of local Labor Party movements, which is held in Chicago on November 22, 1919.

Fitzpatrick remains as President of the Chicago Federation of Labor until his death in 1946, with the exception of a single year, 1908, when Charles M. Dold serves as head of the organization.