On This Day – 14.9.1852 – Death of Arthur Wellesley, alias the Duke of Wellington.

 

 

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He was a true-blue Dub, born Arthur Wesley in 1769. He probably never said that the ‘Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’. This is because he hated his former school with a passion and, when he was a pupil there, in the 1780s, Eton didn’t have any playing fields. But he did give his name to that piece of apparel we refer to affectionately as ‘wellies’. He would probably not have approved. And there is still controversy, if you can be said to stir up a good row concerning a hunk of meat, over whether or not the dish ‘Beef Wellington’ is called after him.

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Today we know him as Arthur Wellesley, much grander than plain old Wesley, and the Duke of Wellington, much grander still. He was born on Merrion Street in Dublin, though the family home was in Dangan Castle, near Trim, in Co. Meath. Something else he never said—we’ll get around to what he did say a bit later—was that alleged disparaging statement about his Irishness—‘just because you are born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse’. This was actually an invention of that great Irish patriot and rogue, Daniel O’Connell. Though the Daily Telegraph was still ascribing it to the Iron Duke as recently as 2015. Well, they would, wouldn’t they.

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He was educated at Whyte’s Academy in Dublin before transferring to the misery of Eton. This means that he went to the same school as Robert Emmet, though the two would not have been contemporaries. Neither, had they gone to school together, would they have seen eye to eye.

He was, according to his mother, an idle youth and she constantly worried about what he was going to do with his life. Eventually he went into the army and became an aide de campto two Lords Lieutenant in Dublin. His duties seem to have mostly involved some serious partying, which suited young Arthur perfectly. Think Dudley Moore’s Arthurin the film of the same name. His dissolute life included incurring a fine for ‘beating a Frenchman in a Dublin bawdy house’. You’d have to think that was an earnest of things to come.

Not only was he a Dubliner himself, he also married one, though Catherine Pakenham came from a family more associated with the Irish midlands, she was daughter of the Second Baron of Longford, Edward Pakenham. Longford didn’t much like young Wellesley at first and sent him off with a flea in his ear. Only when Arthur began to take his military career seriously was he allowed to swoop and carry off Catherine.

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Some clichés about the Duke do appear to be true. He favoured dark clothing on the battlefield so as to make himself a more difficult target. He retired undefeated at the age of forty-six, never having lost a battle, although this can be ascribed to his tendency to withdraw his forces if things looked bleak. He always wore his hair short and did not favour wigs, contrary to the fashions of the early 19thcentury. His emphasis on the study of military strategy and his insistence on a more scientific approach to  war, emanated from his contempt for British army tactics in one of his earliest campaigns, in Flanders in 1794.

Were it not for his signature success against a resurgent Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, made even more famous in 1974 when Abba won the Eurovision song contest with the song of that name, he would barely be remembered today as an obscure Tory Prime Minister, overshadowed by his contemporary Robert Peel. In fact had he not been the victor of Waterloo it is unlikely that he would ever have risen to the status of Prime Minister.

He did Irish Catholics a great favour in that he was Prime Minister in 1829 when Catholic Emancipation was introduced in the House of Commons. That favour might have been seen in a more positive light had it not been offered so grudgingly. The Duke was utterly opposed to the idea of Roman Catholics in Parliament but was strong armed into it by the successful campaign of Daniel O’Connell, the same one who lied about horses and stables.

By the way, work began on the famous Wellington monument in Phoenix Park in Dublin as early as 1817, two years after he saw off Napoleon, with lots of Prussian help, and an army that was at least one third Irish. The project, however, ran out of funds very quickly and the obelisk wasn’t actually completed until 1861.  There are more than ninety public houses named after him in different parts of England, which would make for an interesting pub crawl. There appear to be only two pubs named after him, however, in the country of his birth, both in Dublin.

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, conqueror of Napoleon at Waterloo, twice British Prime Minister, and the inspiration behind wellie throwing competitions the world over, died one hundred and sixty six years ago, on this day.

 

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On This Day – 7.9.1892  Gentleman Jim Corbett wins the world heavyweight title from John L.Sullivan

 

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Going to college (allegedly) and working as a bank clerk doesn’t necessarily qualify someone as a ‘gentleman’. In England, for example, you’d probably have to have attended a public school as well, and have a few ancestors who were at the right hand of William the Conqueror or fought against Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War.

But if you were a professional boxer in the 1890s that sort of background—the education and the bank job—set you apart. That was why James J. Corbett was so different from most of his peers. That, and the fact that he wore his hair in a pompadour, dressed in well-cut clothes and spoke grammatically correct English, meant that he was well entitled to his famous nickname, Gentleman Jim.

Corbett was San Francisco-born but firmly of Irish stock. One of his uncles, his namesake Father James Corbett, was parish priest of Partry in Co. Mayo. In the mid-1880s he became peripherally involved in the playing out of the bloody case of the Maamtrasna massacre, in which a family of five was brutally murdered.

In 1854 Jim Corbett’s father, Patrick, had emigrated to America from Ballinrobe. Corbett himself was born in San Francisco in 1866 into a working-class Irish district south of Market Street. He certainly had a high school education and, whether or not he ever really did go to college, he was a literate and articulate man. As an 18 year old, despite his relatively poor background, his skills as a boxer meant he was admitted to membership of the oldest sporting club in the USA, the San Francisco Olympic Club. By the age of twenty he was working there as a boxing coach.

His first professional fight was an undistinguished affair against a boxer called Frank Smith, in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1886. Both boxers wore gloves, something that was true of all twenty of Corbett’s professional bouts. The fight took place under Queensberry rules, which Smith quickly transgressed. He was disqualified in the third round, gifting the Irish-American a winning start to his professional career.

During Corbett’s subsequent rise the sport of boxing assumed an air of relative respectability. It was still banned in many American states but the gradual disappearance of bare-knuckle fights which continued until one or other boxer was knocked out or threw in the towel—bouts could last up to four hours— meant that more professional promotions could now take place openly.

As Corbett rose through the ranks he would have regarded his fellow Irish-American, John L. Sullivan, with envy. Sullivan became World Heavyweight champion in 1882 and had held onto his title for a decade before he met Corbett in the ring. Sullivan, twenty-five pounds heavier than his rival, was a bruiser who specialised in overpowering anyone who stepped into the ring with him. Corbett’s approach was more cerebral and scientific. He studied his opponents, went into each fight with a game plan and used his superb fitness and manoeuverability to stay out of trouble and to wear his man down.

The only encounter between the two took place in New Orleans in 1892. In his own account of the bout Corbett described what happened after the bell went for round one.

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‘From the beginning of the round Sullivan was aggressive. [He] wanted to eat me up right away. He came straight for me and I backed and backed,  finally into a corner. While I was there I observed him setting himself for a right-hand swing … I sidestepped out of the corner and was back in the middle of the ring again, Sullivan hot after me. I allowed him to back me   into all four corners, and he thought he was engineering all this … But I  had learned what I wanted to know. He had shown his hand to me.’

The New Orleans crowd was none too pleased at what they perceived as Corbett’s reluctance to mix it with the champion. A section of the audience began to hiss the younger fighter and call him ‘Sprinter’. Corbett kept moving until the third round, when he started swinging, and broke the champion’s nose. From that point onwards the challenger’s approach, a combination of jabs, hooks and sidesteps, appeared to bewilder the ageing Sullivan, eight years older than Corbett.

A minute and a half into the twenty-first of the scheduled twenty-five rounds, Corbett ended the fight with a vicious combination of full blooded punches which left Sullivan on the canvas.

Two years later, as world champion, Corbett visited his ancestral home in Ballinrobe and donated a stained glass window to his namesake’s church in Partry.

John L. Sullivan and James J.Corbett fought for the World Heavyweight title one hundred and twenty-six years ago, on this day.

 

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On This Day – 24  August 1803 – Death of James Napper Tandy

 

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If you type the words ‘I met with’ into a Google search, in Ireland at least, an obliging or very prescriptive algorithm will add the words ‘Napper Tandy’ immediately. I haven’t tried this in the UK, the USA, Uzbekistan or the Falklands so I’m not quite sure if it works there as well. Maybe if you’re listening on the web you might give it a try and get back to us.

All of which goes to show that Google has obviously engaged the services of a number of Irish Republican algorithms, because the phrase ‘I met with Napper Tandy’ comes from one of the great rebel tunes The Wearing of the Green. The song starts with the patently ridiculous assertion that ‘the shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground’, goes on to claim that there is a law against ‘the wearing of the green’ – presumably it was just out of fashion at the time – and goes on to observe that ‘I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand and he said ‘How’s poor old Ireland and how does she stand’ – which scans very badly indeed as you have to extend the ‘how’ to a ‘how-ow’ to make it work.

The song was a Dublin street ballad about the failure of the 1798 rebellion and the bloodletting that followed. The version that includes the reference to Napper Tandy was written by the playwright Dion Boucicault for his 1864 play Arrah na Pogue, set in Wicklow during the United Irishmen’s insurrection of 1798.

But who was the remarkable Mr. Tandy?

Well, like a lot of the United Irishmen, James Napper Tandy was a Protestant, Irish Republican revolutionary, born in 1739 who went to the same Quaker school as Edmund Burke. He became a Dublin City councillor, railed and fought against municipal corruption, and advocated an Irish boycott of British goods in retaliation for tariffs and restrictions imposed by the British government on Irish products. Except, of course, they didn’t call it a boycott back then because he didn’t happen for another century or so.

In 1784 he became involved in a major spat with the powerful Irish Attorney General John Fitzgibbon. Fitzgibbon, provoked by Tandy’s support for parliamentary reform, accused him of being unable to pay his debts and of being responsible for riots in Dublin . Tandy, in response, took out an advertisement accusing Fitzgibbon of lying. It was tantamount to challenging the Attorney General to a duel. Just in case Fitzgibbon didn’t get the message Tandy strapped on his sword and paraded up and down College Green, in front of the Irish parliament building. Fitzgibbon haughtily chose to ignore the challenge on the basis that Tandy was ‘not a gentleman’. Ouch!

Tandy was always to the fore when it came to radical causes, he was, for example, strongly influenced  by the ideas of the French Revolution, and equally supportive of the American colonists in their struggle for independence. In 1791 he, along with Theobald Wolfe Tone, became one of the founding members of the Society of the United Irishmen. None of this endeared him to the authorities and in 1792 he fell foul of his second top lawyer, John Toler, the Solicitor General. Toler made a reference in a parliamentary debate to the fact that only Tandy’s own mother would have found him physically attractive. [Based on the attached portraits you can decide for yourselves!] Rather than issue a challenge, which Toler indicated in advance that he would be happy to accept, Tandy sought an explanation for the derogatory remarks. His fear was that, as the insult had been made under parliamentary privilege, if he fought and won a duel against Toler, he would be sentenced to death for murder. The episode did little for his reputation until the issuing of a challenge led to Tandy’s arrest. He ended up spending barely an hour in jail but his brief inacareration went some way towards rehabilitating his reputation as a radical firebrand.

He also had a short career as an architectural critic, albeit more muscular than the current Prince Charles, when he led a mob against the building works taking place at the new Custom House, designed by James Gandon. This particular riot was conducted on behalf of the inhabitants of the area around the older model whose trade would be affected when the new building was finally commissioned. Later, fearing arrest for having taken the oath of the Catholic secret society, the Defenders, Tandy fled to the USA. When he fetched up in Boston the Freeman’s Journal waspishly noted the fact and warned the people of the city of the imminent threat from Tandy of ‘plague, pestilence and sedition’, suggesting that he was capable of some primitive form of germ warfare while rousing a mob to violence.

Tandy returned to Europe in 1798 and was all at sea during the United Irishmen’s rebellion, having been given command of a French ship which landed in Donegal. It left rather hurriedly, without achieving very much, after the defeat of General Humbert’s invading French force in Mayo. He was later arrested in Hamburg and handed over to the British authorities. He was sentenced to death for his brief Donegal vacation but was freed under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte himself, and fled to France.

Radical United Irishman, James Napper Tandy, who never quite managed to fight a duel with anyone very interesting, died of dysentery in Bordeaux two hundred and fifteen years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – 3 August 1868 Death of Charles Graham Halpine

 

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One of the great Irishmen of the American Civil War came from the town of Oldcastle, [Co.Meath.] Miles O’Reilly of the 47thNew York regiment, was twice reduced to the ranks for acts of insubordination but, otherwise, served the Union Army with distinction.

Except, of course, that he didn’t.

In reality Miles O’Reilly was a fictional character, created by a genuine Oldcastle man, the journalist, poet and soldier Charles Graham Halpine. But to the Union troops Miles was one of them, as real as General Ulysees Grant. And, on foot of his creation, for a brief period Halpine became one of the most read satirists in the USA, needling his own side in the Civil War and later, lampooning the corruption of New York City politics. He also risked his life to allow African Americans to assume a more meaningful role in the conflict.

Halpine was born in 1829. He was the son of Rev. Nicholas John Halpin a Church of Ireland curate in Oldcastle, Co.Meath who doubled as editor of the militantly unionist and Protestant Dublin Evening Mail who might not have been happy that his son was born in the year of Catholic Emancipation. Halpine flunked out of Trinity College at an early age and tried his luck, first in London, and then in New York. In the latter, his talent as a writer quickly emerged and had then to be set aside when the American civil war began in 1861.

Halpine possessed a wicked sense of humour. He was an accomplished literary hoaxer. A case in point, his most outrageous coup, involved a notorious pirate named Albert W.Hicks, who was the last man executed for piracy in the USA. He was hanged on Bedloe’s Island – where the statue of Liberty now stands – on 13 July 1860.

Halpine, bored with the news of the day, invented a story claiming that Hicks had been resuscitated after his hanging, and was making ready to exact retribution on the people of New York. Like Orson Welles and his infamous War of the Worldsbroadcast, the report caused consternation. For years afterwards there were people who believed that Hicks had actually made his escape, post mortem, from Bedloe’s Island.

After enlisting in the Union army in 1861 Halpine found himself operating as adjutant general in the staff of the maverick Union general David Hunter in South Carolina. Hunter, unilaterally and without Federal approval, began to recruit black soldiers around South Carolina and formed the first black unit in the Union army, the 1stCarolina (Africa descent). When this was challenged in Congress, and the black soldiers were described as ‘fugitive slaves’ Halpine was recruited to write a riposte to Hunter’s opponents. He rose to the occasion in style, describing Hunter’s recruits as:

 

A fine regiment of loyal persons whose late masters are ‘fugitive                 rebels’ … they are now, one and all, endeavouring with                                     commendable zeal to acquire the drill and discipline required to  place them in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their  … traitorous proprietors

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For that, and related offences, Halpine and Hunter were placed on a Confederate death list, to be hanged immediately upon capture.

But his signature contribution to the war effort was the creation of the entirely fictional, but thoroughly believable, Private Miles O’Reilly, whose military career was avidly followed by readers of the New York Herald.

O’Reilly was a bad poet given to sarcastic gibes on the course of the war and the complete uselessness of the generals who were fighting it.  Halpine had him ‘clapped in irons’ for a poem about an overcautious Union Admiral, Rear Admiral John A.Dahlgren, or Dahlgreen as Miles labelled him for rhyming purposes. Dahlgren liked to preserve the integrity of his ships by never actually sending them into battle.

Miles was cashiered for writing this little ditty.

 

Oh! Dahlgreen,

It’s aisy to be seen

You like dry land so well

That seasick you’ve never been

I’ll not keep score

Your fleet is built for speed

What a pity that it never leaves the shore’

 

Halpine then has Miles pardoned by the President himself who immediately summons the Bard of Oldcastle to the White House to discuss policy. There Miles addresses Lincoln in the following terms.

 

Private O Reilly says that he was born at a place they call Ouldcastle . . .       and he is emphatic in declaring that he and seventeen of his O’Reilly          cousins, sixty-four Murphy cousins, thirty-seven Kelly cousins, twenty-        three Lanigan cousins. together with a small army of Raffertys,    Caffertys, Fogartys, Flanigans, Bradys, O’Rourkes, Dooligans, Oulahans,          Quinns, Flynns, Kellys, Murphys, O’Connors, O’Donnells, O’Driscolls,         O’Mearas, O’Tooles, McCartys, McConkeys, and McConnells— all his         own blood relations, many of them now in the service, and all decent   boys—would be both proud and happy to enlist or re-enlist for twenty years, if his Reverence’s Excellency the President would only oblige         them by declaring war . . .  against England.’

 

As it happens Halpine himself had met Lincoln on many occasions when he was assigned to work with the general staff in Washington. He regularly visited the White House with documents requiring Lincoln’s signature. The President had actually discussed with Halpine the possibility of being assassinated and described how easy it would be to murder him.

After the war Halpine continued to operate behind his alter-ego and turned Miles  on the corrupt machine politicians of New York. Sadly a burgeoning political career – Halpine’s not O’Reilly’s – ended when he died prematurely at the age of only thirty-eight. Had he lived he was set fair to become a significant figure in post-war American politics or letters, whichever he chose.

Charles Graham Halpine, creator of the pugnacious Meathman, Miles O’Reilly, died one hundred and fifty years ago, on this day.

 

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On This Day – 27.7.1897  Belinda Mulrooney opens Fairview Hotel in Dawson

 

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It took courage, or desperation, to want to prospect for gold in the Yukon river valley in Alaska in the 1890s. There were a hundred ways of dying before you even got got there. It was an even more forbidding environment if you were one of the tiny handful of women who took their chances in such an overwhelmingly male world. But Belinda Mulrooney was well up to the task.

She was born in Sligo in 1872 and came to the USA as a 13 year old. She made her first sizeable sum in the restaurant business at the 1893 Chicago Exposition, which was supposed to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America in 1492 but didn’t actually get going until the four hundred and first anniversary.  After that she moved to San Francisco where she lost her first fortune at the age of 20. She had the ill-luck to put her savings into a city lot that was burned down when a dodgy neighbour torched hisproperty for the insurance money. Belinda wasn’t insured, and watched her investment go up in smoke. It was scant consolation that this meant she wasn’t around for the massive 1906 earthquake.

Then came the famous Klondike gold strike of 1897. That brought her to the frigid tundra of Alaska from the rather more balmy and hospitable San Francisco. But she came armed with some useful and lucrative calling cards, in the form of hot water bottles for sale to frozen miners. She made a six hundred percent profit on the deal, and used the money to buy herself a diner. Working the tables in her new restaurant she kept her ears open and bought a number of claims on the strength of gossip she heard from her hungry customers. The successs of a number of these meant that she quickly graduated from a lowly diner to a twenty-two room upmarket hotel, the Fairview, in Dawson.

This boasted steam-heated rooms, electric lights, a dining-room with linen tablecloths, sterling silver knives, bone china and steam baths. The lobby was decked out with cut-glass chandeliers, and boasted a full-time orchestra. She reckoned that newly rich miners would be prepared to pay handsomely for these unaccustomed luxuries. She was right.

Belinda Mulrooney was also as tough and hard as they come, a real ten minute egg. She was not a woman you crossed in a business deal – one story goes that an erstwhile partner double crossed her and left her with hundreds of pairs of unsaleable rubber boots on her hands. Shortly thereafter his mine mysteriously flooded (presumably by accident!!) and he was forced to buy the boots back from her at twenty-first century Nike prices of one hundred dollars a pair. That’s not far short of three thousand dollars today, acceptable for a couple of Jimmy Choos perhaps, but a regular rip off for cheap gum boots. She was also prone to resorting to violence to achieve her ends, an unfortunate teamster who got on the wrong side of her once was beaten up for his pains.

Mulrooney shared the Klondike with another formidable Irish businesswoman, the legendary Nellie Cashman from Cork. They crossed paths (and swords) at least once. Cashman offered Belinda a share in a disputed mine provided she used her influence over a mining inspector who was adjudicating Cashman’s claim. Nellie’s information was that Mulrooney was having an affair with the Inspector. She wasn’t, but she took the share anyway and did nothing to earn it.

However Mulrooney herself was conned by a scam artist named ‘Count’ Charles Eugene Carbonneau. He had about as much claim to the title of Count as Casimir Markievicz. She married Carbonneau in 1900 and he almost succeeded in ruining her by implicating his wealthy wife in a number of fraudulent enterprises. She divorced him in 1906. Given her record he was probably lucky to escape with his life.

Mulrooney eventually settled in Seattle, acquired a modest property portfolio and died there at the age of 95 in 1967! So, despite her association with the old American West, there are probably a number or people listening who shared the planet with her. Her character features in the recent Discovery Channel TV series Klondike where she was depicted by the Australian actor Abbie Cornish. Ms. Cornish, who is exceptionally easy on the eye, was photographed in a tin bath for a publicity still for the series. Clearly the producers were trying to convey the message that, despite the rough and tumble nature of the society in which she thrived, Belinda Mulrooney, was always concerned about her personal hygiene.

Belinda Mulrooney established the Fariview Hotel in Dawson, Alaska, one hundred and twenty-one years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – 20.8.1933   Eoin O’Duffy becomes leader of the Army Comrades Association

 

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It all sounds pretty innocuous. I mean what harm would you expect from an organisation called the Army Comrades Association?  Doesn’t it conjure up images of old codgers who served in uniform together meeting up for the odd drink, a game of darts or snooker maybe, then home to bed after a nice warm cup of cocoa.

That might well be the case today. But back in 1933 the Army Comrades Association had a nickname based on the colour of their apparel. They were better known as the Blueshirts, and they were led by a man who was lost in admiration for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. His name was Eoin O’Duffy, and his career was far more vivid than the colour of the chemise worn by his supporters.

In 1922 he had, briefly, been Chief of Staff of the IRA, and had then fought alongside Michael Collins as a general in the pro-treaty forces during the Civil War. He was the youngest general in Europe, at the tender age of twenty-eight, until an even younger Spanish chisler was promoted to that rank in 1926. You may have heard of him, his name was Francisco Franco.

In September 1922 O’Duffy became the second Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. Eleven years later he became the first Garda Commissioner to be dismissed. Newly elected Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, decided that O’Duffy’s Civil War loyalties would make it difficult for him to serve the new Fianna Fail administration. As O’Duffy had been advocating that W.T.Cosgrave’s defeated government should refuse to hand over power to Fianna Fail, you have to think that Dev might well have got that one right.

O’Duffy wasn’t idle for long. The soft and mushy sounding Army Comrades Association was formed in 1933, ostensibly to defend public meetings of the defeated Cumann no nGaedheal party. O’Duffy became its leader and changed the name to the far less fluffy National Guard. Neither name stuck, and they were rarely known as anything other than the Blueshirts, the colours brown and black having already been taken, by the Nazis in Germany and the Fascisti in Italy.

A month after the name change the Blueshirts announced plans for a huge demonstration to commemorate the all-important eleventh anniversary of the deaths of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. The whole scheme sounded just a little bit too much like Mussolini’s infamous 1922 March on Rome—albeit with a greater risk of squally showers. It was after the March on Rome that Il Duce had seized power in Italy. De Valera, not unreasonably, banned the demonstration, and then declared the National Guard an illegal organisation. O’Duffy cleverly got around the ban by changing the name of the Blueshirts to the League of Youth. The organisation then merged with Cumann na nGaedheal, to form Fine Gael—you may have heard of them too—and the Blueshirts underwent another name change, now becoming the Young Ireland Association. One can only imagine what Thomas Davis and John Mitchel would have made of thatact of plagiarism.

O’Duffy found Fine Gael just a bit too stuffy and left-wing for his liking and he lasted only a year in the new party. By then the Blueshirts were beginning to fall apart as well, and O’Duffy generously raised a brigade to go and fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, despite the fact that the generalissimo had taken away his heavyweight ‘youngest general in Europe’ title a decade before. The mythology surrounding the Irish Brigade in Spain is that seven hundred men travelled there, twiddled their thumbs for twelve months or so, and came home without having heard a shot fired in anger. It’s an unfair version of the actual facts, but not that unfair.

When World War Two broke out O’Duffy, who in the interim had founded the far from cuddly-sounding National Corporate Party, made overtures to Germany, and offered to organise a volunteer brigade to fight on the Russian front. The Germans didn’t take him seriously and, by then, no one in Ireland did either. He died in 1944, aged only fifty-two, and was given a state funeral. It certainly beat freezing to death somewhere near Stalingrad. I should also point out, that Micheal McLiammóir claimed to have had a brief affair with O’Duffy, which, if true, would not have gone down well in the pietistic Catholic circles in which he lived and moved. But then McLiammóir had a puckish sense of humour and might just have been spreading scandal about someone he had little cause to like.

Eoin O’Duffy, a serious fan of the colour blue, took command of the Army Comrades Association eighty-five years ago, on this day.

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On This Day – 6 July 1865 The founding of ‘The Nation’ magazine

 

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It’s the oldest continuous weekly magazine in the USA. It was founded to ‘wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred’. So not that much has changed since the Irish journalist Edwin Lawrence Godkin became the first editor of The Nationin July 1865, just a few months after the  end of the most destructive and divisive war in American history.

Godkin was from Moyne, Co.Wicklow, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman who lost his position when he publicly supported the Young Ireland movement. He then went on to become editor of the Dublin Daily Express newspaper. Had he not done so his son might well have ended up as a clergyman, rather than a ground-breaking journalist.

Godkin junior studied law at Queens University Belfast, and then headed for London in his early twenties. Like another celebrated Irish journalist, William Howard Russell of the Times, Godkin first made a name for himself as a Crimean War correspondent, in his case, for the, now defunct, London Daily News. He got the job—at the tender age of twenty-two— by writing to the editor and asking for it! The experience of Crimea imbued in the young Godkin a lifelong loathing of warfare.

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After his stint as a war correspondent he emigrated to the USA, where one of his first assignments was touring the southern states, and writing about slavery for the Daily News. When the Civil War broke out he supported the Union, and wrote for the New York Times,while also editing the rather esoteric Sanitary Commission Bulletin. So, based in New York, he spent the Civil War alternating between writing about political and actual sewers.

The Nation, Godkin’s enduring achievement, emerged during the era of ‘reconstruction’, when the Disunited States of America began to put itself back together again. Godkin was prevailed upon to set up the magazine by a number of political progressives and former abolitionists, who were anxious to ensure that the South was not enabled to slide back towardsad hocslavery. They also wanted to expose the rank corruption that characterised big city American politics, and that of the post-Civil War administrations of Andrew Johnson and Ulysees Grant.

One of the entrenched organisations that Godkin took on with a vengeance was the Tammany Hall / Democratic party ‘machine’ that dominated the politics of New York. Although it was populated at grass roots level by many of his own fellow countrymen, Godkin and the Nation regularly lacerated the shady leadership of the organisation. His journal was inundated over the years with libel actions threatened by his opponents, none of which ever came to court.

Godkin, who had called the Nation after the famous Young Ireland publication of the same name, was a committed and enthusiastic Irish nationalist who, in the 1880s, actively supported and wrote about the Home Rule movement. As a liberal progressive his only blind spot was his consistent opposition to female suffrage, at a time when individual American states, like Wyoming, were giving women the vote.

In 1881 Godkin sold out his interest in his weekly journal to the New York Evening Post, but remained on as editor of the Nation until 1899. He died three years later.

The job he began in 1865 continues to this day with the Nation, a rare enough left of centre mass circulation newspaper, still selling around one hundred and fifty thousand copies a week. It has consistently supported unpopular causes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Nation advocated US entry into World War Two long before Pearl Harbour forced  America into the fight against Fascism. It was one of the earliest and most vociferous opponents of the anti-Communist witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. In January 2016 the magazine supported the campaign of Bernie Sanders for the American Presidency, declaring his candidacy to be ‘an insurgency, a possibility, and a dream that we proudly endorse’. Edwin Godkin probably purred in his grave.

Recent regular contributors have included Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Christopher Hitchens. The paper today relies for a third of its revenue on supporters who subscribe over and above the cost of their weekly read. Only ten per cent of its revenue comes from advertising.

Edwin Godkin, Wicklow-born son of an Irish newspaper editor, established the campaigning Nation magazine one hundred and fifty-three years ago, on this day.

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