seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Boxing Champion “Rinty” Monaghan

John Joseph “Rinty” Monaghan, world flyweight boxing champion from Belfast, is born on August 21, 1918. He becomes famous in the post-war period, eventually rising to become undisputed world champion and a hero to many people in his home city.

Born in Lancaster Street in north Belfast, Monaghan attends St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers’ School in Donegall Street. A noted fighter at boys’ level, he entereds the paid ranks in his mid-teens. After a short period of wartime service, he resumes his career and his burgeoning reputation draws huge crowds from all parts of Belfast. In particular, bouts at Belfast’s King’s Hall are the highlight with that venue normally packed to the rafters.

In October 1947, the National Boxing Association world crown becomes Monaghan’s after outpointing American Salvador “Dado” Marino at Harringay Stadium for the vacant title. The mantle of undisputed champion of the world rests on his shoulders after he defeats the tough Scottish fighter Jackie Paterson on March 23, 1948. Paterson is to prove one of his major adversaries.

By the time that a long-standing chest complaint forces his retirement as champion in 1950, Monaghan’s trophy cabinet contains the British, European, Commonwealth and World crowns. Of the 66 official bouts he fights during his illustrious career, he wins 51, draws 6 and loses 9. He endears himself to his supporters after his fights by singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to the King’s Hall audience, which joins in the singing.

A part-time cabaret artist, Monaghan tours western Europe during World War II with other notables of the period including Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and George Formby, and later forms his own band.

Monaghan’s nickname “Rinty” comes from his fondness for dogs. According to his daughter Martha, he brought home injured dogs so often that his grandmother called him Rin Tin Tin, after the film dog, and shortened it to Rinty.

Monaghan marries Frances Thompson in 1938 and moves to nearby Sailortown. He has three daughters, Martha, Rosetta and Collette, and one son, Sean. In later life he has a variety of jobs but remains true to his working-class roots and stays in Belfast. He dies at his home in Little Corporation St. on March 3, 1984, at the relatively young age of 65. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.

To mark the influence of this “home-town hero”, the Ulster History Circle and Belfast City Council provide a plaque in Monaghan’s honour at the King’s Hall that is unveiled, in the presence of many of his family circle and friends, on May 3, 2007.

Belfast City Council erects a statue to Monaghan at Cathedral Gardens on August 20, 2015. The 10-foot high bronze statue on a granite plinth is designed by Alan Beattie Herriot and features Monaghan holding a microphone and singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”


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Birth of Mary Ann McCracken, Humanitarian & Social Reformer

Mary Ann McCracken, Irish businesswoman, radical humanitarian, supporter of the Society of United Irishmen and a noted social reformer, is born in Belfast on July 8, 1770.

McCracken’s father is Captain John McCracken, a Presbyterian of Scottish descent and a prominent shipowner. Her mother, Ann Joy, comes from a French Protestant Huguenot family, which made its money in the linen trade and founded the Belfast News Letter. Her liberal and far-sighted parents send her to David Manson‘s progressive co-educational school, where ‘young ladies’ received the same education as the boys. She excels at mathematics.

As an adult, McCracken manages a successful muslin business in Belfast, which pioneers the production of patterned and checked muslin. She runs the business together with her sister, and has at least one agent in Dublin.

McCracken is the sister of Henry Joy McCracken, one of the founding members of the Society of United Irishmen. In the aftermath of her brother’s defeat at the Battle of Antrim on June 7, 1798 she helps Henry Joy and some colleagues hide in the hills of south Antrim, bringing them clothes and money. She is arranging for a ship to take him to the United States when he is recognised by three Carrickfergus soldiers and arrested there on July 7, 1798.

McCracken shares her brother’s interest in reviving the oral-music tradition of Ireland, and is a founding member of the Belfast Harp Society (1808–1813). She supports Edward Bunting in his collecting of traditional music, introducing him to people who can help, acting as his unofficial secretary and contributes anonymously to the second volume of his work The Ancient Music of Ireland in 1809. Bunting lives with the McCrackens for thirty-five years, before moving to Dublin 1819 and thereafter corresponds regularly with McCracken.

McCracken, like her brother, holds radical beliefs and these extend not just to the politics of the time, but to many social issues, such as poverty and slavery. She is dedicated to the poor of Belfast and from her earliest childhood she works to raise funds and provide clothes for the children of the Belfast Poorhouse, now known as Clifton House, Belfast. Following a visit from Elizabeth Fry she forms the Ladies Committee of the Belfast Charitable Society and is chair from 1832–1855. Thanks to the efforts of the committee a school, and later a nursery, is set up to educate the orphans of Belfast. She takes particular pains to find a suitable teacher, displaying a high level of dedication and compassion for her cause. The committee also inspects the homes where children of the poorhouse are apprenticed out.

McCracken leads the Women’s Abolitionary Ccmmittee in Belfast during the height of the anti-slavery movement and continues to promote the cause long after the spirit of radicalism had died in Belfast. By the 1850s, the liberality of the 1790s had largely evaporated in the aftermath of the failure of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the subsequent executions or exile of the leading protagonists.

At the age of 88, McCracken is to be seen at the Belfast docks, handing out anti-slavery leaflets to those boarding ships bound for the United States, where slavery is still practised. Her continued campaign long after the deaths of her counterparts serves to demonstrate the strength of radicalism that exists in certain circles of Belfast society at the close of the eighteenth century.

After her brother’s execution in Belfast, McCracken takes over the care of his illegitimate daughter, Maria, which is not universally accepted in her wider family. She lives with Maria and her family until her death at the age of 96 on July 26, 1866. She is buried in grave number 35 at Clifton Street Cemetery.

A blue plaque has been placed by the Ulster History Circle on the house at 62 Donegall Pass, Belfast, where McCracken lived for much of her later life.


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Birth of Alice Milligan, Nationalist Poet & Writer

alice-milliganAlice Letitia Milligan, Irish nationalist poet and writer, is born in Gortmore, near Omagh, County Tyrone on September 4, 1865. She is also active in the Gaelic League.

Milligan is brought up as a Methodist, the daughter of the writer Seaton Milligan, antiquarian and member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). She is one of eleven children, including music collector Charlotte Milligan Fox, and from 1877 to 1887 attends Methodist College Belfast (MCB), after which she completes a teacher-training course. Together with her father she writes a political travelogue of the north of Ireland in 1888, Glimpses of Erin. She writes her first novel, A Royal Democrat, in 1890.

After the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, Milligan becomes an ardent nationalist. In 1894 with Jenny Armour she founds branches of the Irish Women’s Association in Belfast and other places, and becomes its first president. With Ethna Carbery she founds two nationalist publications in the 1890s, The Northern Patriot, and later The Shan Van Vocht, a monthly literary magazine published in Belfast from 1896 to 1899.

Milligan is a figure of the Irish Literary Revival, and a close associate of Douglas Hyde. She is also “on first-name terms” with William Butler Yeats, James Connolly and Roger Casement. Thomas MacDonagh, writing in the Irish Review in September 1914, describes her as “the best Irish poet of his generation.”

Milligan is awarded an honorary doctorate by the National University of Ireland in 1941. She is also honored during the last decade of her life by the Literary Department of Queen’s University Belfast for her poetry.

Alice Milligan dies in Omagh in April 1953 and is buried in Blackford Municipal Cemetery, County Tyrone. On her headstone is inscribed “She loved no other place than Ireland.”

During 2010/2011 the Ulster History Circle mounts plaques for famous Ulster figures. Charlotte Milligan Fox and Alice Milligan have a plaque mounted on Omagh Library, 1 Spillar’s Place, Omagh, County Tyrone.


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Birth of Charlotte Milligan Fox, Composer & Music Collector

charlotte-milligan-foxCharlotte Milligan Fox, Irish composer and music collector, is born on March 17, 1864 in Omagh, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland.

Milligan is the eldest of eleven children born to Methodist parents Seaton Milligan (1837–1916) and Charlotte Burns (1842–1916), with nine surviving including Alice Milligan and Edith Wheeler. All nine children enroll at Methodist College Belfast which provides a privileged and exceptional education. She studies classical piano and composition at the Royal College of Music in London and the Conservatoires of Frankfurt and Milan. Following her marriage to Charles Eliot Fox in 1892, she settles in London.

In 1904 Fox co-founds with Alfred Perceval Graves the Irish Folk Song Society, an offshoot of the Folk-Song Society formed in 1898. Its aim is to collect and publish Irish airs and ballads, in addition to holding lectures and concerts on the subject. She acts as the society’s honorary secretary. The rules of the Society are collected in volume 4 of the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society. The subscription is 5 shillings payable every January and committee meetings are held at the Rooms of the Irish Literary Society in London.

Fox is a musician in her own right and tours Ireland collecting folk songs and airs. She undertakes a series of tours of County Antrim between 1909 and 1910 with her sisters Edith Wheeler and Alice Milligan. The sisters record and transcribe songs by Irish singers, then publish articles and musical scores in The Journal of Irish Folk Song.

In 1910 Fox visits the east coast of the United States where the New York branch of the Irish Folk Song Society is formed. “The Bardic Recital” is produced on March 16 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. She collects and arranges the music for the play.

Fox rediscovers Edward Bunting‘s papers, and under the provision of her will they come to Queen’s University Belfast in 1916. From these papers she writes The Annals of the Irish Harpers. The publication of The Annals of the Irish Harpers stimulates a revival of interest in both the Irish harp and Edward Bunting. Alice Milligan nurses her sister prior to Fox’s death in London on March 25, 1916. An obituary of Charlotte Milligan Fox is in The Irish Booklover (1916). The Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society (1917) has a poem in remembrance of Charlotte Milligan Fox. The same issue has a memoir of Fox by Alice Milligan and an appreciation of Fox by Alfred Perceval Graves.

During 2010 and 2011, the Ulster History Circle mounts plaques for famous Ulster figures. Charlotte Milligan Fox and Alice Milligan have a plaque mounted on Omagh Library, 1 Spillar’s Place, Omagh, County Tyrone.