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


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Death of John McElroy, Founder of Boston College

Death of Jesuit John McElroy, the founder of Boston College, at age of 95 in Frederick, Maryland, on September 12, 1877.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1782 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the younger of two sons. In the hopes of providing a better life for John and his brother Anthony, their father, a farmer, finances their travel to the United States. In 1803 the two young men board a ship leaving the port of Londonderry and arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 26. McElroy eventually settles in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and becomes a merchant.

In 1806, McElroy enters Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., the same year he enters the novitiate of the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He eventually manages the finances of Georgetown College and in 1808 erects the tower building. He managed the school’s finances so well that through the period of economic hardship following the War of 1812, he is able to send several Jesuits to Rome to study.

McElroy is ordained in May 1817, after less than two years of preparation. As a new priest, he is assigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown as an assistant pastor. In his short time at Trinity, he contributes to the growth of the congregation and enlarging of the church building. This is achieved by increasing the monthly subscription for congregation members from 12½ cents to $12.50 on July 3, 1819. The following day he travels to most of the congregation members’ homes and collects $2,000 in pledges. He immediately sets to work having the Church modified to include two lateral-wing chapels, which are first used on October 3, 1819.

On January 11, 1819, McElroy is granted United States citizenship. Also in 1819, McElroy starts a Sunday School for black children who are taught prayers and catechism simultaneously with spelling and reading, by volunteer members of the congregation. McElroy spends his remaining years in Georgetown teaching the lower grades.

In 1823, McElroy begins negotiations with the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for the establishment of a school for girls in Frederick. In 1824, the St. John’s Benevolent Female Free School is founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph at 200 East Second Street in Frederick. In 1825, McElroy sets to work replacing the pre-American Revolution log cabin that houses the school with a modern building large enough to also house an orphanage.

McElroy’s next task is to found an educational institution for boys. On August 7, 1828, the construction of St. John’s Literary Institute begins. The following year the construction is completed and the school is opened, a school which is currently operating under the name of Saint John’s Catholic Prep.

In October 1847, McElroy is welcomed in Boston, Massachusetts, by the Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the North End. Bishop Fitzpatrick sets McElroy to work on bringing a college to Boston.

In 1853, McElroy finds a property in the South End where the city jail once stood. After two years of negotiations the project falls through due to zoning issues. A new site is identified and city officials endorse the sale. In 1858, Bishop Fitzpatrick and Father McElroy break ground for Boston College, and for the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Classes began in the fall of 1864, and continue at this location until 1913 when the college moves to its current location at Chestnut Hill. Initially Boston College offers a 7-year program including both high school and college. This joint program continues until 1927 when the high school is separately incorporated.

In 1868, McElroy retires to the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. He visits Georgetown for the final time in 1872 to celebrate his golden jubilee. His eyesight is failing and while moving through his home he falls, fracturing his femur, which eventually leads to his death. Father John McElroy dies September 12, 1877 at the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. For some years leading up to his death, he is regarded as the oldest priest in the United States and the oldest Jesuit in the world. He is buried in the Novitiate Cemetery. In 1903, the Jesuits withdraw from Frederick and the graves are moved from the Frederick Jesuit Novitiate Cemetery to St. John’s Cemetery.

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Patrick Francis Healy Becomes President of Georgetown University

Patrick Francis Healy, Jesuit priest and educator, becomes the 29th President of Georgetown University on July 31, 1874. He is known for expanding the school following the American Civil War. Healy Hall is constructed during his tenure and is named after him. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark in the late 20th century.

Healy is born into slavery in 1834 in Macon, Georgia, the third son of Irish American plantation owner Michael Healy and his African American slave Mary Eliza, who is the multiracial daughter of a black slave and white slaveowner. The law establishes during colonial slavery in the United States that children are to take the legal status of the mother. By the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, Patrick and his siblings are legally considered slaves in Georgia, although their father is free and they are three-quarters or more European in ancestry.

Discriminatory laws in Georgia prohibit the education of slaves and require legislative approval for each act of manumission, making these essentially impossible to gain. Michael Healy arranges for all his children to leave Georgia and move to the North to obtain their educations and have opportunities in their lives. They are raised as Irish Catholics. Patrick’s brothers and sisters are nearly all educated in Catholic schools and colleges. Many achieve notable firsts for Americans of mixed-race ancestry during the second half of the 19th century, and the Healy family of Georgia is remarkably successful.

Healy sends his older sons first to a Quaker school in Flushing, New York. Despite the Quakers’ emphasis on equality, Patrick encounters some discrimination during his grade school years, chiefly because his father is a slaveholder, which by the late antebellum years the Quakers consider unforgivable. Patrick also meets resistance in the school as an Irish Catholic. When Michael Healy hears of a new Jesuit college, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he sends his four oldest sons, including Patrick, to study there in 1844. They are joined at Holy Cross by their younger brother Michael in 1849.

Following Patrick’s graduation in 1850, he enters the Jesuit order, the first African American to do so, and continues his studies. The order sends him to Europe to study in 1858. His mixed-race ancestry has become an issue in the United States, where tensions are rising over slavery. He attends the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, earning his doctorate, becoming the first American of openly acknowledged part-African descent to do so. During this period he is also ordained to the priesthood on September 3, 1864.

In 1866 Healy returns to the United States and teaches philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. On July 31, 1874, he is selected as the school’s twenty-ninth president. He is the first college president in the United States of African-American ancestry. At the time, he identifies as Irish Catholic and is accepted as such.

Patrick Healy’s influence on Georgetown is so far-reaching that he is often referred to as the school’s “second founder,” following Archbishop John Carroll. Healy helps transform the small nineteenth-century college into a major university for the twentieth century, likely influenced by his European education.

He modernizes the curriculum by requiring courses in the sciences, particularly chemistry and physics. He expands and upgrades the schools of law and medicine. The most visible result of Healy’s presidency is the construction of the university’s flagship building designed by Paul J. Pelz, begun in 1877 and first used in 1881. The building is named in his honor as Healy Hall.

Healy leaves the College in 1882 and travels extensively through the United States and Europe, often in the company of his brother James, a bishop in Maine. In 1908 he returns to the campus infirmary, where he dies on January 10, 1910. He is buried on the grounds of the university in the Jesuit cemetery.


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Birth of Irish Politician Mary MacSwiney

Mary MacSwiney, Irish politician and educationalist, is born in London on March 27, 1872, to an Irish father and English mother. In 1927 she becomes leader of Sinn Féin when Éamon de Valera resigns from the presidency of the party.

MacSwiney returns to Ireland with her family at the age of six and is educated at St. Angela’s School in Cork. At the age of twenty, she obtains a teaching post at a private school in England and studies for a Teaching Diploma at the University of Cambridge, which is normally reserved for men.

Influenced by her younger brother Terence MacSwiney‘s staunch Irish republicanism, MacSwiney joins the Gaelic League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She is a founder member of Cumann na mBan when it is formed in 1914 in Cork and becomes a National Vice-President of the organisation. She leads the denunciation of British rule at the Convention of November 1914. In 1916 she is arrested and imprisoned following the Easter Rising and is also dismissed from her teaching position due to her republican activities. Several months later, upon her release from prison, she and her sister Annie re-found Scoil Íte, a sister school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School, and she remains involved with the school for the rest of her life.

MacSwiney supports the Irish War of Independence in 1919–21. After the death of her brother Terence in October 1920 on hunger strike during the height of the war, she is elected for Sinn Féin to the Cork Borough constituency in 1921. She gives evidence in Washington, D.C., before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. For nine months she and Terence’s widow, Muriel, tour the United States lecturing and giving interviews.

MacSwiney is active in her friendship with Harry Boland and de Valera, whom she cultivates assiduously. In October 1921, a second delegation is to be sent to London which for the first time includes Michael Collins. MacSwiney, who remains implacably opposed, pleads with de Valera to be allowed to go. She is refused as de Valera thinks her to be “too extreme.” She strongly opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, debating during December 1921 to January 1922 to resume the war. On December 21 she speaks for three hours, criticising the agreement from all angles.

MacSwiney is arrested at Nell Ryan’s home, a safe house, at 40 Herbert Park, Ballsbridge, on November 4, 1922, when it is raided by Free State soldiers. She is interned at Mountjoy Gaol and immediately goes on hunger strike. Cumann na mBan organizes vigils outside the prison in protest of Mary’s and the others internment. The Women’s Prisoner’s Defence League is formed in August 1922 to protect their rights. During the hunger strike she refuses doctor’s visits and is resigned to her death. Her condition is critical and she is given the Last Rites by a Catholic priest. The Government is not prepared to allow strikers die so she is released.

En route to Liam Lynch‘s funeral, MacSwiney is again arrested when the car in which she is riding is stopped and she is recognised. She is taken with Kate O’Callaghan to Kilmainham Gaol. Fearless of death, she begins another protest. They continued to be interned without charge, but it is explained she is distributing anti-government propaganda. After nineteen days of hunger strike she is due to be released on April 30, 1923. The Governor allows O’Callaghan to go but stays a decision on MacSwiney. Most of the women on hunger strike are sent to the North Dublin Union.

MacSwiney retains her seat at the 1923 general election and, along with other Sinn Féin members, refuses to enter the Dáil Éireann.

In March 1926 the party holds its Ard Fheis. MacSwiney and Father Michael O’Flanagan lead the section from which Éamon de Valera and Fianna Fáil break away. De Valera has come to believe that abstentionism is not a workable tactic and now sees the need to become the elected government of the Dáil. The conference instructs a joint committee of representatives from the two sections to arrange a basis for co-operation. That day, it issues a statement declaring “the division within our ranks is a division of Republicans.” The next day, de Valera’s motion to accept the Free State Constitution, contingent upon the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance, narrowly fails by a vote of 223 to 218. However, de Valera takes the great majority of Sinn Féin support with him when he founds Fianna Fáil.

MacSwiney continues to maintain a republican position until her death. By then she is vice-president of Sinn Féin and Cumann na mBan but loses her seat at the June 1927 general election. When lack of funds prevent Sinn Féin contesting the second election called that year, MacSwiney declares “no true Irish citizen can vote for any of the other parties.”

Mary MacSwiney dies at her home in Cork on March 8, 1942. Her stance, both before and after the Treaty, may be summed up by her statement, “A rebel is one who opposes lawfully constituted authority and that I have never done.”


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Death of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records several 78 RPM records in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP record, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title. Her notable voice gives her the nickname the “Queen of Connemara.”

Murphy is born on February 16, 1902, in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo, to a well-off family. Her father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. Murphy’s father encourages her interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Murphy is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin, and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. While at UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Murphy sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel, and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941, Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Murphy becomes one of those who assist Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty in saving the lives of 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy.

In 1946, Murphy is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while living in Ottawa, Murphy makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. Murphy and Kiernan purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C.. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Murphy’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin, until her death. During her lifetime she records upwards of 100 songs.


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Ireland Reacts to Terrorist Attacks in U.S.

tricolour-at-ground-zeroPresident Mary McAleese goes on RTÉ Radio on September 11, 2001, to express her shock and horror at the terrorist attacks in the United States.

The President says that these atrocities are “crimes against the very foundations of our humanity.” She comments that “it is unbearable and almost unbelievable for the rest of the world to be witnessing such wanton destruction of human life in front of our eyes.”

President McAleese speaks by telephone with the United States Ambassador to Ireland, Richard Egan, and asks him to convey to President George W. Bush the heartfelt sympathies of the Irish people in this hour of great tragedy for the people of America, a nation which Ireland holds so dear.

The Irish government names more than a dozen of its natives among the dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Based on family names and individual stories, there are many hundreds of American dead with Irish heritage, including Americans who through parents or grandparents have become Irish citizens.

The website www.IrishTribute.com, set up in reaction to the September 11 attacks, estimates that perhaps one-sixth of the dead are in some way “Irish.” The website claims that “September 11, 2001 may well go down as the bloodiest day in the history of the Irish people. An estimated 1,000 people who were of Irish descent or of Irish birth were lost in the violent events on that day.”

A National Day of Mourning is held in Ireland on September 14 and a remembrance mass is held on September 12, 2001. Ireland is one of the few countries to hold a service day. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President McAleese are both in attendance.

Families in Limerick take in American tourists grounded at Shannon Airport after all flights into and out of the United States are cancelled.

The only flag, other than the U.S. flag, to fly at the Ground Zero site is the Irish tricolour, which is put in place by the Carpenters Union #608 and FDNY Command Post.

In the wake of the attacks, the Irish government immediately begins reviewing security arrangements.


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Death of General Philip Henry Sheridan

philip-sheridanIrish American General Philip Henry Sheridan, career United States Army officer and a Union general in the American Civil War, dies of heart disease in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, on August 5, 1888.

Sheridan is born in Albany, New York, the third child of six by John and Mary Meenagh Sheridan, immigrants from the parish of Killinkere, County Cavan. Fully grown, he reaches only 5 feet 5 inches in height, a stature that leads to the nickname “Little Phil.” Abraham Lincoln describes his appearance in a famous anecdote, “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

Sheridan’s career is noted for his rapid rise to major general and his close association with General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant, who transfers Sheridan from command of an infantry division in the Western Theater to lead the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in the East. In 1864, he defeats Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley and his destruction of the economic infrastructure of the Valley, called “The Burning” by residents, is one of the first uses of scorched earth tactics in the war. In 1865, his cavalry pursues General Robert E. Lee and is instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

In later years, Sheridan fights in the Indian Wars of the Great Plains. Comanche Chief Tosahwi reputedly tells Sheridan in 1869, “Me, Tosahwi; me good Injun,” to which Sheridan supposedly replies, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Sheridan denies he had ever made the statement. Biographer Roy Morris Jr. states that, nevertheless, popular history credits Sheridan with saying “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” This variation “has been used by friends and enemies ever since to characterize and castigate his Indian-fighting career.” In Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown attributes the quote to Sheridan but does not provide documentation to support his contention, so the quote may be more apocryphal than real.

Both as a soldier and private citizen, Sheridan is instrumental in the development and protection of Yellowstone National Park. The protection of the Yellowstone area is Sheridan’s personal crusade. He authorizes Lieutenant Gustavus Doane to escort the Washburn Expedition in 1870 and for Captain John W. Barlow to escort the Hayden Expedition in 1871. Barlow names Mount Sheridan, a peak overlooking Heart Lake in Yellowstone, for the general in 1871. As early as 1875, Sheridan promotes military control of the area to prevent the destruction of natural formations and wildlife.

In 1883, Sheridan is appointed general-in-chief of the U.S. Army, and in 1888 he is promoted to the rank of General of the Army during the term of President Grover Cleveland. Sheridan serves as the ninth president of the National Rifle Association.

Sheridan suffers a series of massive heart attacks two months after sending his memoirs to the publisher. After his first heart attack, the U.S. Congress quickly passes legislation to promote him to general and he receives the news from a congressional delegation with joy, despite his pain. His family moves him from the heat of Washington, D.C. and he dies of heart failure in his summer cottage in the Nonquitt section of Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

His body is returned to Washington and he is buried on a hillside facing the capital city near Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The burial helps elevate Arlington to national prominence.


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Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy, Irish-American, United Statesrobert-f-kennedy Senator, Democratic presidential candidate, and brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, dies on June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles, California after being shot in the early morning hours of June 5.

After winning the California and South Dakota primary elections for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States and speaking to supporters in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel, Kennedy walks through the kitchen area frequently shaking hands with those he encounters. Kennedy starts down a passageway narrowed by an ice machine against the right wall and a steam table to the left. He turns to his left and shakes hands with busboy Juan Romero just as Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant, steps down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice machine and repeatedly fires what is later identified as a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver.

After Kennedy had falls to the floor, former FBI agent William Barry sees Sirhan holding a gun and hits him twice in the face while others force Sirhan against the steam table and disarmed him as he continues firing his gun in random directions. Five other people are also wounded.

Kennedy is transferred several blocks to Good Samaritan Hospital for surgery. Surgery begins at 3:12 AM PDT and lasts three hours and 40 minutes. Despite extensive neurosurgery to remove bullet and bone fragments from his brain, his condition remains extremely critical until he dies at 1:44 AM PDT on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting.

Sirhan pleads guilty on April 17, 1969, and is sentenced to death. The sentence is commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court, in its decision in California v. Anderson, invalidates all pending death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. Since that time, Sirhan has been denied parole fifteen times and is currently confined at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in southern San Diego County.

Kennedy’s body lay in repose at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City for two days before a funeral Mass is held on June 8. His body is interred near his brother at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. His death prompts the protection of presidential candidates by the United States Secret Service. Hubert Humphrey later goes on to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but ultimately loses the election to Republican Richard Nixon.

As with his brother’s death, Kennedy’s assassination and the circumstances surrounding it have spawned a variety of conspiracy theories. Kennedy remains one of only two sitting United States Senators to be assassinated, the other being Huey Long.