seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Margaret Hassan, Irish-born Aid Worker in Iraq

Margaret Hassan, Irish-born aid worker also known as “Madam Margaret,” is born Margaret Fitzsimons in Dalkey, County Dublin on April 18, 1945. She works in Iraq for many years until she is abducted and murdered by unidentified kidnappers in Iraq in 2004. Her remains have never been recovered.

Soon after the end of World War II Hassan’s family moves to London, where she spends most of her early life and where her younger siblings are born. At the age of 27, she marries Tahseen Ali Hassan, a 29-year-old Iraqi studying engineering in the United Kingdom. She moves to Iraq with him in 1972, where she begins work with the British Council of Baghdad, teaching English. Eventually she learns Arabic and becomes an Iraqi citizen.

During the early 1980s, Hassan becomes the assistant director of studies at the British Council, later becoming director. Meanwhile, her husband works as an economist. She remains in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, although the British Council suspends operations in Iraq, and she is left jobless at the end of it.

Hassan joins humanitarian relief organisation CARE International in 1991. Sanitation, health, and nutrition become major concerns in the sanctioned Iraq. She is crucially involved in bringing leukemia medicine to child cancer victims in Iraq in 1998. She becomes a vocal critic of the United Nations restrictions. She is opposed to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that the Iraqis are already “living through a terrible emergency. They do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.”

By 2004, Hassan is head of Iraqi operations for CARE. Well known in many of Baghdad’s slums and other cities, she is especially interested in Iraq’s young people, whom she calls “the lost generation.” Her presence draws large crowds of locals.

Hassan is kidnapped in Baghdad on October 19, 2004, and is killed some weeks later on November 8. In a video released of her in captivity she pleads for help and begs British Prime Minister Tony Blair to remove British troops from Iraq. She adds that she does not “want to die like Mr. Bigley,” a reference to Kenneth Bigley, who had been executed in Iraq only weeks earlier.

Patients of an Iraqi hospital take to the streets in protest against the hostage takers’ actions. On October 25, between 100 and 200 Iraqis protest outside CARE’s offices in Baghdad, demanding her release. Prominent elements of the Iraqi insurgency and Iraqi political figures condemn the kidnapping and call for her release. On November 2, Al Jazeera reports that the kidnappers threatened to hand her over to the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and who is responsible for the execution of Bigley. On November 6, a statement purportedly from al-Zarqawi appears on an Islamist website calling for the release of Hassan unless the kidnappers have information she is aligned with the invading coalition. The statement cannot be authenticated and Hassan’s whereabouts in the video are unknown.

On 15 November, U.S. Marines in Fallujah uncover the body of an unidentified blonde- or grey-haired woman with her legs and arms cut off and throat slit. The body cannot be immediately identified, but is thought unlikely to be Hassan, who has brown hair. There is one other western woman known missing in Iraq at the time the body is discovered, Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish-born long-time Iraqi resident. Khalifa is released by her hostage takers on November 20.

On November 16, CNN reports that CARE has issued a statement indicating that the organisation is aware of a videotape showing Hassan’s execution. Al-Jazeera reports that it has received a tape showing Hassan’s murder but is unable to confirm its authenticity. The video shows Hassan being shot with a handgun by a masked man. It is not known who is responsible for Hassan’s abduction and murder. The group holding her never identifies itself in the hostage videos.

She remains a Roman Catholic throughout her life and never converts to Islam as is widely reported after her death. A Requiem Mass is held for her, after her death is confirmed, at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

CARE International suspends operations in Iraq because of Hassan’s kidnapping. At least eight other women kidnapped by insurgents during the conflict are released unharmed by their captors. It is unclear why Hassan, who was opposed to the war, lived in Iraq for many years, held Iraqi citizenship, was married to an Arab Muslim and spoke fluent Arabic was killed.

On May 1, 2005, three men are questioned by Iraqi police in connection with the murder. On June 5, 2006, news reports emerge that an Iraqi man by the name of Mustafa Salman al-Jubouri has been sentenced to life imprisonment for “aiding and abetting the kidnappers” but two other men are acquitted. Al-Jubouri appeals this sentence and is given a shorter imprisonment.

An Iraqi man named Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, also known as Abu Rasha, an architect from Baghdad, is arrested by Iraqi and U.S. forces in 2008 after contacting the British Embassy in Baghdad and attempting to extort 1 million dollars in return for disclosing the location of Hassan’s body. Though Jassar signs statements confessing to the charges, he pleads not guilty, stating he was forced to sign them after receiving beatings and electrical shocks during questioning.

On June 2, 2009, the Press Association reports that Jassar is given a life sentence by Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court for being involved in Hassan’s abduction and murder, and for attempting to blackmail the British Embassy. Hassan’s family welcomes the court’s decision but pleads with Jassar to tell them where her body is so they can return her to Britain for burial. On July 14, 2010, a day before Jassar is due to appear in court for retrial, it is reported that he could not be located in the prison facility where he was being held. He had been missing for a month.


Leave a comment

The Long Count Fight

In a battle of Irish Americans, the Long Count Fight, or the Battle of the Long Count, a ten-round professional boxing rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey takes place at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 22, 1927.

“Long Count” is applied to the fight because when Tunney is knocked down in the seventh round the count is delayed due to Dempsey’s failure to go to and remain in a neutral corner. Whether this “long count” actually affects the outcome remains a subject of debate. Tunney ultimately wins the bout in a unanimous decision.

Just 364 days earlier, on September 23, 1926 at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tunney beats Dempsey in a ten-round unanimous decision to claim the world heavyweight title. This first fight between Tunney and Dempsey is moved out of Chicago because Dempsey learned that Al Capone is a big fan of his, and he does not want Capone to be involved in the fight. Capone reportedly bets $50,000 on Dempsey for the rematch, which fuels false rumors of a fix. Dempsey is favored by odds makers in both fights, largely because of public betting which heavily tilts towards Dempsey.

The rematch held at Chicago’s Soldier Field draws a gate of $2,658,660 (approximately $22 million in today’s dollars). It is the first $2 million gate in entertainment history.

Despite the fact that Tunney had won the first fight by a wide margin on the scorecards, the prospect of a second bout creates tremendous public interest. Dempsey is one of the so-called “big five” sports legends of the 1920s and it is widely rumored that he had refused to participate in the military during World War I. He actually had attempted to enlist in the Army, but had been turned down. A jury later exonerates Dempsey of draft evasion. Tunney, who enjoys literature and the arts, is a former member of the United States Marine Corps. His nickname is The Fighting Marine.

The fight takes place under new rules regarding knockdowns: the fallen fighter has ten seconds to rise to his feet under his own power, after his opponent moves to a neutral corner (i.e., one with no trainers). The new rule, which is not yet universal, is asked to be put into use during the fight by the Dempsey camp, who had requested it during negotiations. Dempsey, in the final days of training prior to the rematch, apparently ignores the setting of these new rules. Also, the fight is staged inside a 20-foot ring, which favors the boxer with superior footwork, in this case Tunney. Dempsey likes to crowd his opponents, and normally fights in a 16-foot ring that offers less space to maneuver.

To this day boxing fans argue over whether Dempsey could or should have won the fight. What is not in dispute is that the public’s affection for Dempsey grew in the wake of his two losses to Tunney. “In defeat, he gained more stature,” wrote The Washington Post‘s Shirley Povich. “He was the loser in the battle of the long count, yet the hero.”

Tunney said that he had picked up the referee’s count at “two,” and could have gotten up at any point after that, preferring to wait until “nine” for obvious tactical reasons. Dempsey said, “I have no reason not to believe him. Gene’s a great guy.”

Dempsey later joins the United States Coast Guard, and he and Tunney become good friends who visit each other frequently. Tunney and Dempsey are both members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In March 2011, the family of Gene Tunney donates the gloves he wore in the fight to the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of American History.


1 Comment

Death of Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon

presley-neville-obannonPresley Neville O’Bannon, first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and descendant of Brien Boru O’Bannon (1683) who is apparently the first notable O’Bannon to enter the American colonies, dies on September 12, 1850.

O’Bannon is born in 1776 in Fauquier County, Virginia, to William O’Bannon, a captain of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War, and Anne Neville, a sister of General John Neville, commander of Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania during the Revolution. He is probably named after Neville’s son, Presley, who is aide-de-camp to the Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

O’Bannon enters the Marine Corps on January 18, 1801. As a first lieutenant assigned to the USS Argus, he commands a detachment of seven Marines and two Navy midshipmen in diplomatic Consul General William Eaton‘s small army during the Tripoli campaign of the First Barbary War. In the combined operations with the United States Navy, he leads the successful attack at the Battle of Derna, a coastal town in eastern modern Libya on April 27, 1805, giving the Marines’ Hymn its line “to the shores of Tripoli.”

Lieutenant O’Bannon becomes the first man to raise a United States flag over foreign soil in time of war. O’Bannon’s superior, William Eaton, a former Army officer, had raised the American flag several months earlier while traveling on the Nile River from Alexandria to Cairo, but it had not been in a time of war. According to Marine Corps legend, Prince Hamet Karamanli is so impressed with O’Bannon’s bravery during the attempt to restore him to his throne as the Bey of Tripoli that he gives O’Bannon a sword as a gesture of respect. This sword becomes the model for the Mameluke sword, adopted in 1825 for Marine Corps officers, which is part of the formal uniform today.

O’Bannon resigns from the Marine Corps on March 6, 1807. He moves to Logan County, Kentucky, making his home in Russellville. He serves in the Kentucky Legislature in 1812, 1817, and 1820–21, and in the Kentucky State Senate from 1824 to 1826.

Some time before 1826, O’Bannon marries Matilda Heard, daughter of Major James Heard and Nancy Morgan, a daughter of American Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan, commander at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1781.

Presley O’Bannon dies at age 74 on September 12, 1850 in Pleasureville, Kentucky, where his daughter and nephew live. In 1919, his remains are moved to the Frankfort Cemetery on East Main Street in the state capital of Frankfort, Kentucky.

(Pictured: Oil painting of Lieutenant Presley Neville O’Bannon, USMC, by Colonel Donald L. Dickson, USMCR, from the Official Photograph Album Collection (COLL/2246) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division)


Leave a comment

Birth of Audie Murphy, Decorated Soldier & Actor

audie-leon-murphyAudie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II, is born to sharecropping parents of Irish descent in Kingston, Texas on June 20, 1925.

As a child, Murphy is a loner with mood swings and an explosive temper. He grows up in Texas, around Farmersville, Greenville, and Celeste, where he attends elementary school. His father drifts in and out of the family’s life and eventually deserts them. He drops out of school in fifth grade and gets a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support his family. After his mother dies of endocarditis and pneumonia in 1941, he works at a radio repair shop and at a combination general store, garage and gas station in Greenville.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Murphy’s older sister helps him to falsify documentation about his birthdate in order to meet the minimum-age requirement for enlisting in the military. Turned down by the Navy and the Marine Corps, he enlists in the Army. He first sees action in the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Then, in 1944, he participates in the Battle of Anzio, the liberation of Rome, and Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. He fights at Montélimar and leads his men on a successful assault at the L’Omet quarry near Cleurie in northeastern France in October.

Murphy receives every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. He receives the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrates at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, Murphy embarks on a 21-year acting career. He plays himself in the 1955 autobiographical film To Hell and Back, based on his 1949 memoirs of the same name, but most of his roles are in westerns. He makes guest appearances on celebrity television shows and stars in the series Whispering Smith. He is a fairly accomplished songwriter. He breeds American Quarter Horses in California and Arizona and becomes a regular participant in horse racing.

Suffering from what would today be described as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Murphy sleeps with a loaded handgun under his pillow. He looks for solace in addictive sleeping pills. In his last few years, he is plagued by money problems but refuses offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he does not want to set a bad example.

Audie Murphy is killed on May 28, 1971 when the private plane in which he is a passenger crashes into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, twenty miles west of Roanoke in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers are also killed. On June 7, 1971, he is buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In attendance are United States Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, Chief of Staff of the United States Army William Westmoreland, and many of the 3rd Infantry Division. His gravesite is the cemetery’s second most-visited gravesite, after that of President John F. Kennedy.

(Pictured: Audie Murphy as Tom Smith in the television series Whispering Smith, 1961)