seamus dubhghaill

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


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Bono Named Europe’s Greatest Hero of 2003 by “Time” Magazine

On April 19, 2003, Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, surpasses competition from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac to become Europe’s greatest hero. Already laden down with similar honours, he is picked by online voters from a list of 36 other Europeans compiled by the prestigious Time magazine.

Bono’s work for the starving starts with Band Aid in 1984 but develops over the years into a crusade lobbying world leaders and trying to reduce Third World debt.

Able to open any door from the Vatican to the White House, Bono in 2003 alone is nominated for a second successive Nobel Peace Prize, receives the French Legion of Honour and an international humanitarian award from the American Ireland Fund.

“There are potentially another ten Afghanistans in Africa and it is cheaper by a factor of 100 to prevent the fires from happening than to put them out. Look, I know how absurd it is to have a rock star talk about debt relief or HIV/AIDS in Africa. But if not me, who?” Bono says.

Caoimhe Butterly, a 24-year-old from Dublin, is also nominated by Time editors for her role as a peace activist, which resulted in her being shot at by Israeli troops. “I don’t really think the concept of heroes is helpful, but if my inclusion helps highlight the cause of people struggling against oppression, then it’s of some good,” Butterly says. She expects to go to Iraq in the near future “to further the struggle against oppression.”

The third Irish person on the list is 58-year-old Christina Noble whose torrid childhood leads her to work on behalf of impoverished street children in Asia. She survives tuberculosis, hunger, homelessness, beatings, molestation by relatives, institutionalisation and a gang rape. She starts her foundation‘s work in Vietnam in 1989 and Mongolia in 1997.

In Vietnam, where she is known fondly as Mama Tina, her foundation has 50 projects providing education, food and clean water for children. “We’re tools. We help a little. You don’t need brains or brawn to do that. You just need the heart of a survivor,” Noble says.

Others nominated include footballers David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, former The Who singer Roger Daltrey, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling.

All 36 nominees are honoured at a ceremony in London on May 21, 2003.

(From: “Debt crusader Bono named greatest European hero” be Sean O’Riordan, Irish Examiner, http://www.irishexaminer.com, April 21, 2003)


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Sinn Féin Holds First Formal Talks with the British Government in Over 70 Years

On December 9, 1994, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), holds its first formal talks with the British Government in over 70 years. The negotiations take place in Belfast, almost one year after Britain and Ireland began an uncertain program to try to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. The first session is held at Stormont, a gigantic, columned edifice on top of a hill on the outskirts of Belfast that houses the old Northern Ireland parliament.

Although the announcement of the negotiations is not a surprise, it still sets off an exciting ripple that history is in the making. British officials have conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders in the past, but never before have they sat down openly at the same table with them.

In both a letter to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, and in a three-paragraph statement, Downing Street pointedly refers to the meeting as “exploratory dialogue.” This is in keeping with London‘s position that it is simply joining in “talks about talks,” not a full negotiating session, which must involve all parties to the conflict.

For 25 years the IRA has been fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic minority of 650,000 in Northern Ireland. It wants to link Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland that remain British after partition, to the Irish Republic, a move opposed by most of the province’s 950,000 Protestants.

The announcement of talks evoke a predictable pattern of responses across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. Adams, who works to persuade the IRA to go along with a unilateral cease-fire that was declared on September 1, welcomes it. “The opportunity to realize a lasting peace, which will benefit all of the people of Ireland, has never been greater,” he says in a statement. Adams had been accusing London of foot-dragging on the peace effort. Now, he says, it is time to move on to “the next phase of dialogue — multilateral talks led by both Governments.”

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main Protestant political group in Northern Ireland, is skeptically accepting, as it has been all along. John Taylor, a Unionist Member of Parliament, says the talks will at least establish whether “Sinn Féin really is to become a normal political party.”

The Rev. Ian Paisley, a Member of Parliament whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become a rejectionist front, continues to oppose talks or any move smacking of compromise. He tells the House of Commons that “a vast majority of people” resent the decision to talk to “the men of blood.”

Sinn Féin is represented at the talks by Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA political leader who took part in secret contacts that broke up the previous year. In 1972, together with Adams, he was flown to London for a meeting with William Whitelaw, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Those talks eventually failed.

Adams is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, December 7. He attends a meeting at the White House, his first one there, with Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Advisor. Seven weeks earlier, Britain protests vigorously at the thought of Adams visiting the White House. But events moved so swiftly that he gains a kind of legitimacy that is hard for Whitehall to deny. His visa to the United States, good for three months, allows several visits.

The Government team of civil servants, in contrast to higher-level ministers, are led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary of the British administration called the Northern Ireland Office.

Going into the negotiations, the key question is what will be discussed. On the British side, the top of the agenda is how to get the IRA to turn over its considerable stash of 100 tons of arms and explosives. There is nothing, of course, that Sinn Féin is less likely to agree to at the outset. So should the British make this a condition for multilateral talks to begin, the two sides will meet an obstacle right away.

McGuinness says that the issue of IRA weapons has to be considered “in the context of us removing the causes of conflict, the reason why people use armed force in our society.”

From its side, Adams says Sinn Féin wants to discuss being treated with “a parity of esteem” with the other parties, and “the release of all political prisoners.”

The British Government says that it will soon hold talks with the so-called loyalist paramilitaries on the Protestant side. And it indicates it will have no objection if elected Sinn Féin councillors attend a major international investment conference in Belfast on December 13 and 14.

(From: “Britain and I.R.A. Group to Begin Talks in Northern Ireland” by John Darnton, The New York Times, December 2, 1994 | Pictured: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lead a Republican parade in Belfast, commemorating 25 years of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1994)


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Gerry Adams Meets Bill Clinton for the First Time

For the United States Congress‘s annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon on March 16, 1995, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, invites Ireland’s new Taoiseach, John Bruton, to be the main event. However, the first handshake between President Bill Clinton and Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), steals the spotlight.

Some of the fifty people at the luncheon, most of them Irish American members of Congress, think Clinton might forgo a handshake because he is under tremendous pressure from Britain’s Prime Minister John Major not to give Adams a warm embrace. But Clinton does not hesitate although the handshake comes after photographers have left the room.

“Gerry was concerned about the protocol of how he should go up to the President, but when he walked up, the President gave him a very big handshake,” says Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from Seaford, Long Island, who sits to the right of Adams at the lunch. After an awkward moment of silence, the room explodes with applause.

The President and the Sinn Féin leader speak for five minutes. Later Adams says, “The engagement was positive, was cordial.”

According to Rep. King, Clinton says he is committed to making the Irish peace effort succeed and, while talking to Adams, puts his fist in front of him and says, “This is going to work.” Adams says Clinton does not urge him to make sure the IRA disarms, something Major asked the President to do. Clinton invites Adams to a White House reception scheduled for the following day and, according to his aides, plans to speak to Major over the weekend in an effort to patch up their differences.

The tone at the luncheon is often light. Clinton jokes that finally he is at a place where people will not criticize him for taking a drink of Guinness. Also, Bruton hails Gingrich as an honorary Irishman, noting that his mother apparently descended from the Doherty clan of County Donegal.

Wearing a white carnation tinged with green, Gingrich gives the Taoiseach a bowl of Georgia peanuts and a book on the history of the United States Capitol. Telling Gingrich that he is not the first person to consider overhauling welfare, Bruton gives him an 1840’s book about welfare reform in Ireland.

Some attendees joke that there are almost as many Kennedys at the luncheon as there are Republicans. There are Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, and Jean Kennedy Smith, the American Ambassador to Ireland.

The menu would make any Irishman proud: boiled corned beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes, soda bread and lime sherbet.

(From: “Gerry Adams Shakes Hands With Clinton” published in The New York Times, March 17, 1995)


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Death of Mary McShain, Landowner & Benefactor

Mary McShain, Irish American landowner and benefactor, dies at Killarney House in Killarney, County Kerry on December 2, 1998.

McShain is born Mary Horstmann in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 27, 1907. Her parents are Ignatius J. Horstmann and his wife Pauline. She is the fifth of six children. She attends St. Leonard’s Academy in Philadelphia and Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. In 1927 she marries John McShain, building contractor who works on the reconstruction of the White House and the building of the Jefferson Memorial, the Pentagon, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They are both interested in horse breeding and racing, establishing a stable of racehorses in 1952. They expand this stable to Ireland in 1955, hiring first Vincent O’Brien and then John Oxx as trainers. Their greatest success is the horse Ballymoss.

The McShains move to Ireland in 1960, buying Killarney House in County Kerry and a large portion of the Kenmare estate, which had been owned by the Earls of Kenmare since the 16th century. They gift Innisfallen Island and the ruins of an abbey to the Irish state in 1973, bestowing guardianship of Ross Island and its castle to the state. For a nominal fee, they turn over the entire estate to the state in 1979, stipulating a life tenancy of the house and some land, with the rest of the land being incorporated into Killarney National Park.

McShain is a Dame of Malta and a Lady of the Grand Cross of the Holy Sepulchre. She receives the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice cross in 1976. She is awarded two honorary doctorates in 1977, one from La Salle University in Philadelphia and one from her alma mater, Rosemont College.

McShain dies at Killarney House on December 2, 1998. She is buried beside her husband in Holy Cross Cemetery, Philadelphia. Her daughter, Pauline McShain, is a sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and dies on March 8, 2019 due to complications of pneumonia.

(Pictured: John and Mary McShain with Lakes of Killarney in the background sometime in the late 1950s)


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Birth of Irish Tenor Frank Patterson

Frank Patterson, internationally renowned Irish tenor following in the tradition of singers such as Count John McCormack and Josef Locke, is born on October 5, 1938 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is known as “Ireland’s Golden Tenor.”

As a boy Patterson performs with his local parish choir and is involved in maintaining the annual tradition of singing with the “Wrenboys.” He sings in the local St. Mary’s Choral Society and at a production of The Pirates of Penzance performed with both his parents. His interests extend beyond music and as a boy he represents Marlfield GAA hurling club, plays tennis at Hillview and golf at the Mountain Road course. He quits school at an early stage to work in the printing business of his mother’s family. He moves to Dublin in 1961 to enroll at the National Academy of Theatre and Allied Arts where he studies acting while at the same time receiving vocal training from Hans Waldemar Rosen. In 1964, he enters the Feis Ceoil, a nationwide music competition, in which he wins several sections including oratorio, lieder and the German Gold Cup.

Patterson gives classical recitals around Ireland and wins scholarships to study in London, Paris and in the Netherlands. While in Paris, he signs a contract with Philips Records and releases his first record, My Dear Native Land. He works with conductors and some of the most prestigious orchestras in Europe including the London Symphony Orchestra and Orchestre de Paris. He also gains a reputation as a singer of Handel, Mozart, and Bach oratorios and German, Italian and French song. He has a long-running programme on RTÉ titled For Your Pleasure.

In the early 1980s Patterson moves to the United States, making his home in rural Westchester County, New York. A resurgence of interest in Irish culture encourages him to turn towards a more traditional Irish repertoire. He adds hymns, ballads, and traditional as well as more popular tunes to his catalogue. In March 1988 he is featured host in a St. Patrick’s Day celebration of music and dance at New York City‘s famous Radio City Music Hall. He also gives an outdoor performance before an audience of 60,000 on the steps of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Patterson is equally at home in more intimate settings. His singing in the role of the Evangelist in Bach’s St. John Passion is given fine reviews. Further recordings follow, of Beethoven arrangements, Irish songs, Berlioz songs, Purcell songs and others, all on the Philips label.

Patterson performs sold-out concerts from London’s Royal Albert Hall to New York’s Carnegie Hall, and with his family he presents two concerts at the White House, for presidents Ronald Reagan in 1982 and Bill Clinton in 1995. He records over thirty albums in six languages, wins silver, gold and platinum discs and is the first Irish singer to host his own show in Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Rising to greater prominence with the new popularity of Celtic music in the 1990s, Patterson sees many of his past recordings reissued for American audiences, and in 1998 he stars in the PBS special Ireland in Song. His last album outsells Pavarotti.

In recognition of his musical achievements he is awarded an honorary doctorate from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island in 1990, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Manhattan College in 1996 and the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston in 1998.

In 1999, Patterson learns he has a brain tumour. He has several operations in the following year and his condition appears to stabilise. He is diagnosed with a recurrence of his illness on May 7, 2000. He briefly recuperates and resumes performing. His last performance is on June 4, 2000 at Regis College in the Boston suburb of Weston, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter he is admitted to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York where he lapses into a coma and dies on June 10, 2000 at the age of 61.

At his death accolades and tributes came from, among others, President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Opposition leader John Bruton who said he had “the purest voice of his generation.”


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Bill Clinton Begins Four Day Irish Visit

clinton-guildhall-squareFormer U.S. president Bill Clinton begins a four-day visit to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on May 20, 2001 to try to advance the peace process. He spends time both north and south of the border, fulfilling engagements in Belfast, Derry, Enniskillen and Dublin.

Clinton’s goal is to use his influence to try to enhance the electoral fortunes of the parties that support the Good Friday Agreement, particularly David Trimble‘s Ulster Unionist Party, who are under pressure from Ian Paisley‘s anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Clinton arrives at Farranfore Airport, County Kerry, before heading to a round of golf at Ballybunion Golf Club with the former Irish deputy prime minister and Labour Party leader Dick Spring. He spends the night at Dromoland Castle, County Clare, before two days of public engagements in Dublin.

Trimble has vowed to quit as head of the Stormont Executive, where his party shares power with Sinn Féin, if the Irish Republican Party (IRA) has not started to get rid of its guns by July 1. Paisley, however, has accused Trimble and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of breaking their promises to the people of Northern Ireland by allowing into government a party linked to a terrorist group, without prior arms decommissioning.

While Clinton is no longer the most powerful man in the world, his charisma and his past efforts to keep the peace process moving are still appreciated by many. He receives Northern Ireland political leaders countless times at the White House and gives support and encouragement by phone during difficult periods of the peace talks.

Clinton delivers a lecture at Trinity College Dublin and attends a gala for peace and reconciliation at Dublin Castle, before travelling to Derry and then on to Belfast, where he receives an honorary degree from the former peace talks chairman George Mitchell, now chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.

The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), John Hume, who welcomes Clinton to Derry, says the former president has done a great deal of good for all the people of Ireland. But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader, Peter Robinson, claims that Clinton and Blair could have a negative effect on Trimble’s campaign. “As a unionist, I wouldn’t like to be sitting next to either of them just before an election,” he said. “Blair’s name is associated with the now-broken pledges he wrote on a board here just before the [Good Friday agreement] referendum, so for him to come over and moralise now won’t do much good. And Clinton is so disgraced and powerless that, while he might prop up the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Féin vote, he’ll have no impact on unionists voters.”

(Pictured: Bill Clinton and SDLP leader John Hume at public address at Guildhall Square in Derry. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Chelsea Clinton are in the second row.)


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Laying of the Cornerstone for the White House

The cornerstone is laid for the White House in the newly designated capital city of Washington, D.C., on October 13, 1792. Earlier in the year, work begins on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish American architect James Hoban, whose design is influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James GibbsA Book of Architecture.

Hoban is an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan, County Kilkenny. He works there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he is given an “advanced student” place in the Dublin Society‘s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studies under Thomas Ivory. He excels in his studies and receives the prestigious Duke of Leinster‘s medal from the Dublin Society for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs” in 1780. Later, Hoban finds a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban emigrates to the United States, and establishes himself as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1785.

Hoban is in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designs numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse. President George Washington admires Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour and summons the architect to Philadelphia, the temporary national capital, in June 1792.

In July 1792, Hoban is named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across, much like the Charleston courthouse. Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amends this to a 2-story facade, eleven bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion is faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.

In 1800, President John Adams becomes the first president to reside in the executive mansion, which soon becomes known as the “White House” because its white-gray Virginia freestone contrasts strikingly with the red brick of nearby buildings.


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The Sinking of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109

pt-109-crewIn the early morning hours of August 2, 1943, three small American torpedo boats are moving just west of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. In command of PT-109 is a young Irish American destined to one day be the first Catholic president of the United States, Lieutenant John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

On a moonless night, Kennedy’s boat is idling on one engine to avoid detection of her wake by Japanese aircraft when the crew realizes they are in the path of the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, which is returning to Rabaul from Vila, Kolombangara, after offloading supplies and 900 soldiers. Amagiri is traveling at a relatively high speed of between 23 and 40 knots in order to reach harbor by dawn, when Allied air patrols are likely to appear.

The crew of PT-109 has less than ten seconds to get the engines up to speed. The commander of the Amagiri, Kohai Hanami, spots the tiny ship but it is too close to fire upon. Instead, Hanami decides to ram it. PT-109 is cut in half and bursts into flames. Seamen Andrew Jackson Kirksey and Harold W. Marney are killed, and two other members of the crew are badly injured. PT-109 is gravely damaged, with watertight compartments keeping only the forward hull afloat in a sea of flames.

PT-169 launches two torpedoes that miss the destroyer and PT-162‘s torpedoes fail to fire at all. Both boats then turn away from the scene of the action and return to base without checking for survivors.

The eleven survivors cling to PT-109’s bow section as it drifts slowly south. By about 2:00 PM, it is apparent that the hull is taking on water and will soon sink, so the men decide to abandon it and swim for land. Since there are Japanese camps on all the nearby large islands, they choose the tiny deserted Plum Pudding Island, southwest of Kolombangara. They place their lantern, shoes, and non-swimmers on one of the timbers used as a gun mount and begin kicking together to propel it. Kennedy, who had been on the Harvard University swim team, uses a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth to tow his badly-burned senior enlisted machinist mate, MM1 Patrick McMahon. It takes four hours to cover the 3.5 miles to their destination, which they reach without confrontation by sharks or crocodiles.

The island is only 100 yards in diameter and has no food or water. The crew has to hide from passing Japanese barges. Kennedy swims to Naru and Olasana islands, a round trip of about 2.5 miles, in search of help and food. He then leads his men to Olasana Island, which has coconut trees and drinkable water.

The explosion of PT-109 is spotted by an Australian coastwatcher, Sub-lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans, who mans a secret observation post at the top of the Mount Veve volcano on Kolombangara, where more than 10,000 Japanese troops are garrisoned below on the southeast portion. Evans dispatches islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana in a dugout canoe to look for possible survivors after decoding news that the explosion he had witnessed was likely from the lost PT-109.

Kennedy and his men survive for six days on coconuts before they are found by the scouts. The small canoe is not big enough for passengers. Kennedy quickly carves a note on a coconut for Gasa and Kumana to deliver to Evans. Evans gets word back to the U.S. Navy and, on the night of August 8, all eleven survivors of PT-109 are rescued by PT-157.

John F. Kennedy keeps that carved coconut on his desk in the Oval Office at the White House until the day he is assassinated.