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


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Establishment of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake

The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake is established in the Irish Free State on November 17, 1920. The lottery is established to finance hospitals.

The Sweepstake is generally referred to as the Irish Sweepstake or Irish Sweepstakes, frequently abbreviated to Irish Sweep or Irish Sweeps. The Public Charitable Hospitals (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1930 is the act that establishes the lottery. This act expires in 1934, in accordance with its terms, and the Public Hospitals Acts are the legislative basis for the scheme thereafter. The main organisers are Richard Duggan, Captain Spencer Freeman and Joseph McGrath. Duggan is a well known Dublin bookmaker who has organised a number of sweepstakes in the decade prior to setting up the Hospitals’ Sweepstake. Captain Freeman is a Welsh-born engineer and former captain in the British Army. After the Constitution of Ireland is enacted in 1937, the name Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake is adopted.

The sweepstake is established because there is a need for investment in hospitals and medical services and the public finances are unable to meet this expense at the time. As the people of Ireland are unable to raise sufficient funds, because of the low population, a significant amount of the funds are raised in the United Kingdom and United States, often among the emigrant Irish. Potentially winning tickets are drawn from rotating drums, usually by nurses in uniform. Each such ticket is assigned to a horse expected to run in one of several horse races, including the Cambridgeshire Handicap, Epsom Derby and the Grand National. Tickets that draw the favourite horses thus stand a higher likelihood of winning and a series of winning horses have to be chosen on the accumulator system, allowing for enormous prizes.

The original sweepstake draws are held at the Mansion House, Dublin on May 19, 1939 under the supervision of the Chief Commissioner of Police, and are moved to a more permanent fixture at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge later in 1940.

The Adelaide Hospital in Dublin is the only hospital at the time to not accept money from the Hospitals Trust, as the governors disapprove of sweepstakes.

From the 1960s onwards, revenues decline. The offices are moved to Lotamore House in County Cork. Although giving the appearance of a public charitable lottery, with nurses featured prominently in the advertising and drawings, the Sweepstake is in fact a private for-profit lottery company, and the owners are paid substantial dividends from the profits. Fortune magazine describes it as “a private company run for profit and its handful of stockholders have used their earnings from the sweepstakes to build a group of industrial enterprises that loom quite large in the modest Irish economy. Waterford Glassworks, Irish Glass Bottle Company and many other new Irish companies are financed by money from this enterprise and up to 5,000 people are given jobs.” At the time of his death in 1966, Joe McGrath has interests in the racing industry, and holds the Renault dealership for Ireland in addition to large financial and property assets. He is notorious throughout Ireland for his ruthless business attitude and his actions during the Irish Civil War.

In 1986, the Irish government creates a new public lottery, the National Lottery, and the company fails to secure the new contract to manage it. The final sweepstake is held in January 1986 and the company is unsuccessful for a licence bid for the National Lottery, which is won by An Post later that year. The company goes into voluntary liquidation in March 1987. The majority of workers do not have a pension scheme but the sweepstake has fed many families during lean times and is regarded as a safe job. The Public Hospitals (Amendment) Act, 1990 is enacted for the orderly winding up of the scheme, which has by then almost £500,000 in unclaimed prizes and accrued interest.

A collection of advertising material relating to the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes is among the Special Collections of National Irish Visual Arts Library.


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Death of Thomas Davis, Organizer of the Young Ireland Movement

thomas-osborne-davisThomas Osborne Davis, Irish writer and the chief organiser and poet laureate of the Young Ireland movement, dies from scarlet fever in Dublin on September 16, 1845.

Davis is born in Mallow, County Cork, on October 14, 1814, the son of a Welsh father, a surgeon in the Royal Artillery, and an Irish mother. Through his mother he is descended from the Gaelic noble family of O’Sullivan Beare. His father dies one month after his birth and his mother moves to Warrington Place near Mount Street bridge in Dublin. In 1830, they move to 67 Lower Baggot Street. He attends school in Lower Mount Street before studying at Trinity College, Dublin. He graduates in Law and received an Arts degree in 1836, before being called to the Irish Bar in 1838.

Davis gives a voice to the 19th-century foundational culture of modern Irish nationalism. Formerly it is based on the republicans of the 1790s and on the Catholic emancipation movement of Daniel O’Connell in the 1820s-30s, which has little in common with each other except for independence from Britain. Davis aims to create a common and more inclusive base for the future. He establishes The Nation newspaper with Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon.

He writes some stirring nationalistic ballads, originally contributed to The Nation and afterwards republished as Spirit of the Nation, as well as a memoir of Curran, the Irish lawyer and orator, prefixed to an edition of his speeches, and a history of King James II‘s parliament of 1689. He has formed many literary plans which are unfinished at the time of his early death.

Davis supports O’Connell’s Repeal Association from 1840, hoping to recreate the old Parliament of Ireland. They split during a debate on the proposed new Queen’s University of Ireland, when Davis is reduced to tears by O’Connell’s superior debating skill. Davis is in favour of a university that would inclusively educate all Irish students. O’Connell and the Catholic hierarchy prefer a separate system for Catholic students within Ireland that would remain under church control.

O’Connell generally refers to his inexperienced allies as “Young Ireland,” initially as a dismissive term, that from the 1870s becomes the accepted term for nationalists inspired by Davis. He also prefers a federal arrangement with Britain in the 1840s while Davis seeks a greater degree of autonomy. Both agree that a gradual and non-violent process is the best way forward. Despite their differences, O’Connell is distraught at Davis’s early death.

Davis is a Protestant, but preaches unity between Catholics and Protestants. To him, it is not blood that makes a person Irish, but the willingness to be part of the Irish nation. He is to the fore of Irish nationalist thinking and it has been noted by later nationalist notables, such as Patrick Pearse, that while Theobald Wolfe Tone laid out the basic premise that Ireland as a nation must be free, Davis is the one who built this idea up promoting the Irish identity.

He is the author of influential songs such as The West’s Awake, A Nation Once Again and In Bodenstown Churchyard. He also writes The Lament for Owen Roe O’Neill.

Thomas Davis dies from scarlet fever on September 16, 1845, at the age of thirty. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.