seamus dubhghaill

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


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President McAleese & Queen Elizabeth II Meet in Belfast

mcaleese-and-queen-elizabethPresident of Ireland Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II shake hands on Northern Ireland soil for the first time on December 9, 2005 — a symbolic milestone following years of peacemaking in this long-disputed British territory.

The British monarch and the Republic of Ireland‘s head of state chat and pose together at Hillsborough Castle, outside Belfast, for an occasion that would have provoked hostility within Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority just a few years earlier. But their trouble-free meeting becomes inevitable once Ireland dropped its territorial claim to Northern Ireland as part of the landmark Good Friday Agreement peace accord of 1998. The visit also fuels speculation the queen could soon make her first official visit to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

No British monarch has visited the territory of the modern-day Republic of Ireland since George V visited Dublin in 1911, a decade before the island’s partition into a mostly Protestant north that remains within the United Kingdom, and a predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland that gradually gains full independence from Britain.

Camera crews are allowed to film the moment, but not record the sound, when McAleese shakes the queen’s hand at the start of a 20-minute meeting, their fourth since 1998. Previous meetings occurred at Buckingham Palace and on a World War I battlefield site. McAleese later calls it “a very special day for Anglo-Irish relationships” that brings forward the day when the queen will visit the Irish Republic.

McAleese, a Belfast-born Catholic, had made scores of visits to Northern Ireland since being elected to the Irish Republic’s largely symbolic presidency in 1997. As part of her presidential theme of “building bridges,” she regularly invites Protestant groups to her official Dublin mansion and has built impressive diplomatic contacts with northern Protestants.

Before McAleese’s arrival, visits north by an Irish president were rare events that drew public protests from Protestants, who demanded that Ireland remove its territorial claim from its 1937 constitution. The republic’s voters overwhelmingly supported this in a May 1998 referendum, an action completed in December 1999.

The queen has avoided traveling to the Irish Republic, in part, because of security fears following the IRA assassination of Mountbatten in August 1979. He, his daughter-in-law and two teenage boys are killed when the IRA blows up his private boat near his castle in County Sligo. However, Prince Philip and their son, Prince Charles, make several visits to the Irish Republic in the decade following the IRA’s 1994 cease-fire.


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Birth of John Holwell, Black Hole of Calcutta Survivor

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100John Zephaniah Holwell, surgeon, an employee of the English East India Company, and a temporary Governor of Bengal (1760), is born in Dublin on September 17, 1711. He is also one of the first Europeans to study Indian antiquities.

Holwell grows up in London and studies medicine at Guy’s Hospital. He gains employment as a surgeon in the East India Company and is sent to India in 1732. He serves in this capacity until 1749. In 1751, he is appointed as zamindar of the 24 Parganas district of Bengal. He then serves as a member of the Council of Fort William (Calcutta) and defends the settlement against Siraj ud-Daulah in 1756.

In June 1756, Holwell is a survivor of the Black Hole of Calcutta, the incident in which British subjects and others are crammed into a small poorly ventilated chamber overnight, resulting in many deaths. His 1758 account of this incident obtains wide circulation in England and some claim this gains support for the East India Company’s conquest of India. His account of the incident is not publicly questioned during his lifetime nor for more than a century after his death. However, in recent years, his version of the event has been called into question by many historians.

Holwell succeeds Robert Clive as temporary Governor of Bengal in 1760, but is dismissed from the Council in 1761 for remonstrating against the appointment of Henry Vansittart as Governor of Bengal. He is elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1767.

Holwell has also become an important source for modern historians of medicine, as a result of his description of the practice of smallpox variolation in eighteenth-century Bengal, An Account of the Manner of Inoculating for the Small Pox in the East Indies with Some Observations on the Practice and Mode of Treating that Disease in those Parts (London, 1767).

Holwell dies on November 5, 1798 in Pinner, United Kingdom.


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Passport Requests Increase Following UK Brexit Vote

irish-passportAccording to statistics released by the Department of Foreign Affairs on August 6, 2016, in the first full month since the United Kingdom‘s decision to leave the European Union, applications for Irish passports from people living in Great Britain increase by 73% and by 63% from those in Northern Ireland over the same period the previous year.

In July 2015 there are 4,242 applications submitted by people in Great Britain compared to 7,321 in July 2016. Meanwhile 6,638 passport requests are submitted from Northern Ireland.

Within in a day of the Brexit vote there is a surge in online interest in Irish passports and moving to Ireland. While the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU in the referendum, Northern Ireland votes to remain by a majority of 56 percent to 44 percent. The Department of Foreign Affairs says there is “an increase in queries in respect of entitlements to Irish passports” the very next day. The year on year figures for January show a 20 percent increase in applications prior to the vote.

Google Trends says UK searches for “getting an Irish passport” jump more than 100% after the Brexit result comes through. And while the data analysts do not reveal the exact number of searches for information on the Republic of Ireland‘s citizenship rules, they say most interest is shown in Northern Ireland with the normally unionist heartland of Holywood, County Down, taking top spot.

Sinn Féin repeatedly says that Northern Ireland must not be “dragged out of Europe.” Up to this point the British government dismisses calls from its representatives and others for a border poll in Irish unity.


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The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848

young-irelander-rebellion-1848The Young Irelander Rebellion, a failed Irish nationalist uprising against the British led by the Young Ireland movement, takes place on July 29, 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. The rebellion is part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affect most of Europe. It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it takes place during the Great Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.

In 1846, William Smith O’Brien, alongside John Mitchel, form the Irish Confederation with the Young Ireland movement which is dedicated to direct action against the British. Two short years later they are already calling for open rebellion, despite the fact that Ireland is now in the third year of the devastating famine which is leaving millions of the country’s people in brutal starvation.

Just a year after Black ‘47, the worst year of the Great Famine, the Young Ireland movement is hoping to uprise and overthrow the British but with the starving Irish just struggling to stay alive, dying or emigrating in their thousands, their revolutionary talk does little to act as a call to arms for the average Irish person.

Whereas the mistreatment of the Irish people by the British had rightly led to an increased radicalism in Irish nationalist movement, without the general Irish population able to think of anything other than staying alive, it seems doomed to failure, especially after the arrest of Mitchel before the rebellion is even started. He is convicted of sedition and transported to a penal colony in Australia before the revolt begins, a move that leads to an increased furor to revolt among the leaders that remain.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien launches his rebellion. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, a Royal Irish Constabulary unit takes refuge in a house and holds those inside as hostages.

It was evident to the rebels that the position of the police is almost impregnable. When a party of the Cashel police are seen arriving over Boulea Hill, the rebels attempt to stop them even though they are low on ammunition. The police continue to advance, firing up the road. It becomes clear that the police in the house are about to be reinforced and rescued. The rebels then fade away, effectively terminating both the era of Young Ireland and Repeal, but the consequences of their actions follow them for many years. This event is colloquially known as “The Battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage plot.”

In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. On June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia). In 1854, after five years in Van Diemen’s Land, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to the United Kingdom. He settled in Brussels.

(Pictured: The attack on the Widow McCormack’s house on Boulagh Common, Ballingarry, County Tipperary)


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“Picture Post” Magazine Banned in Ireland

picture-postPicture Post, a photojournalistic magazine published in the United Kingdom from 1938 to 1957, is banned in Ireland on July 24, 1940 after a campaign by Irish Catholics who object to the “vulgarity and suggestiveness of the illustrations.” The editorial stance of the magazine is liberal, anti-Fascist and populist.

In January 1941 Picture Post publishes their “Plan for Britain.” This includes minimum wages throughout industry, full employment, child allowances, a national health service, the planned use of land and a complete overhaul of education. This document leads to discussions about post-war Britain and is a populist forerunner of William Beveridge‘s November 1942 Social Insurance and Allied Services (known as the Beveridge Report).

Sales of Picture Post increase further during World War II and by December 1943 the magazine is selling 1,950,000 copies a week. By the end of 1949 circulation declines to 1,422,000.

Founding editor Stefan Lorant, who has some Jewish ancestry, had been imprisoned by Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s, and wrote a best-selling book thereafter, I Was Hitler’s Prisoner. By 1940, he fears he will be captured in a Nazi invasion of Britain and flees to Massachusetts in the United States, where he writes important illustrated U.S. histories and biographies. He is succeeded by Sir Tom Hopkinson following his departure in 1940.

During World War II, the art editor of the magazine, Edgar Ainsworth, serves as a war correspondent and accompanies the United States 7th Army on their advance across Europe in 1945. He visits the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp three times after the British army liberates the complex in April 1945. Several of his sketches and drawings from the camp are published in a September 1945 article, Victim and Prisoner. Ainsworth also commissions the artist Mervyn Peake to visit France and Germany at the end of the war, and he too reports from Bergen-Belsen.

On June 17, 1950 Leader Magazine is incorporated in Picture Post. Hopkinson is often in conflict with Sir Edward George Warris Hulton, the owner of Picture Post. Hulton mainly supports the Conservative Party and objects to Hopkinson’s socialist views. This conflict leads to Hopkinson’s dismissal in 1950 following the publication of James Cameron‘s article about South Korea‘s treatment of political prisoners in the Korean War.

By June 1952, circulation has fallen to 935,000. Sales continue to decline in the face of competition from television and a revolving door of new editors. By the time the magazine closes in July 1957, circulation is less than 600,000 copies a week.

Picture Post has been digitised as The Picture Post Historical Archive, 1938-1957 and consists of the complete, fully searchable facsimile archive of Picture Post. It is made available in 2011 to libraries and institutions.

(Pictured: Cover of the Picture Post Vol. 8, No. 12, dated September 21, 1940)


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Birth of John B. Keane, Irish Playwright & Novelist

john-b-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, Irish playwright, novelist and essayist, is born in Listowel, County Kerry on July 21, 1928.

Keane is the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah Purtill. He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the United Kingdom between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender and lives in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that he is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the UK, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955 where he writes plays for the local theatre company and sponsors, from 1971, the annual Listowel Writers’ Week. He marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna.

His first play, Sive (1959), is initially rejected by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin but goes on to win the amateur All-Ireland Drama Festival. Later plays include The Field (1965), which is released in a bowdlerized film version in 1990, and Big Maggie (1969), which is produced on Broadway in 1982. In 1998 Keane is honoured with a medal from the Abbey for his contribution to Irish theatre.

Keane is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish club of PEN International and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

John Keane dies of prostate cancer on May 30, 2002 in Listowel at the age of 73.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Laying of the Rotunda Hospital Foundation Stone

rotunda-hospitalThe foundation stone of the Rotunda Hospital, a maternity hospital in Parnell Street, Dublin, is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on July 9, 1751.

The hospital is founded by Bartholomew Mosse, a surgeon and man-midwife who is appalled at the conditions that pregnant women have to endure, in George’s Lane as the Dublin Lying-In Hospital in March 1745. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, referring to the month-long bed rest prescribed for postpartum confinement. The venture is very successful and Mosse raises money through concerts, exhibitions and even a lottery to establish larger premises.

The hospital moves to new premises, designed by Richard Cassels, where it becomes known as “The New Lying-In Hospital” in December 1757. The rotunda itself, which is designed by James Ensor, is completed just in time for a reception hosted by the Marquess of Kildare in October 1767. Extensive new rooms, designed by Richard Johnston and built adjacent to the rotunda, are completed in 1791.

Records indicate that around 1781, “when the hospital was imperfectly ventilated, every sixth child died within nine days after birth, of convulsive disease; and that after means of thorough ventilation had been adopted, the mortality of infants, within the same, in five succeeding years, was reduced to one in twenty.” This issue is not limited to the Lying-In-Hospital. In that era, ventilation improvement is a general issue in patient care, along with other issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the conditions in which surgeons such as Robert Liston in Britain and elsewhere, have to operate. Florence Nightingale famously works on the design of safe and healthy hospitals.

By the early 19th century the facility becomes known as the Rotunda Hospital, after its prominent architectural feature. The first Caesarean section in Ireland is undertaken at the hospital in 1889.

The Rotunda Hospital, as both a maternity hospital and also as a training centre (affiliated with Trinity College Dublin) is notable for having provided continuous service to mothers and babies since inception, making it the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world. It is estimated that over 300,000 babies have been born there.

Rotunda Hospital is currently managed by RCSI Hospitals.