seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.