History Archives – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Apr 2019 19:22:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Wild Irish Women: Louise Mohan Bryant https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/wild-irish-women-louise-mohan-bryant/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/wild-irish-women-louise-mohan-bryant/#respond Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:25:38 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39633 Read more..]]> It took a movie, 1981’s Reds, to both lift Louise Bryant from obscurity and reduce her to the sniveling acolyte of American communist John Reed, Annie Hall in a babushka. Wrong. For all her (many) faults, Louise Bryant was always her own woman – a fearless journalist, activist, suffragette, and talented writer. She was also reckless, with a compulsive need to court danger, and a study in contradictions – a chronic dissembler who sought the truth, a free love disciple who threw fits of jealousy, a communist who twice married rich men and a feminist who was a serial seducer. Fiercely romantic, she always wanted to have a life of drama, tragedy, fascinating people and great events. She got her wish.

Louise’s father, Hugh J. Mohan, was a first-generation Irish journalist, orator and, befitting his convivial personality, traveling toastmaster. The Mohan family records were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake, a fortuitous event for Louise, ever sensitive about her age. After Hugh took off (or, as Louise claimed, “died”), her mother married railroad worker Sheridan Bryant, allowing Louise to take her stepfather’s name and continue to fudge her birth date. She fudged other facts too, claiming at various times she was a relative of Oscar Wilde or the granddaughter of an Irish lord.

She moved to Portland, Oregon, and, always a free spirit, Louise lived on a houseboat where she entertained friends including wealthy dentist Paul Trullinger, known for his good humor and largesse with laughing gas. Enamored by her Bohemian style and beauty – “slender with vividly pretty Irish features, reddish-brown hair…heart-shaped face” Trullinger proposed, promising Louise she could keep her maiden name, continue her suffrage activism, and have a private studio to write and paint. It was 1909.

<em>John Trullinger painted this oil portrait of Louise Bryant, the wife of his cousin Paul Trullinger, in 1913.</em>

John Trullinger painted this oil portrait of Louise Bryant, the wife of his cousin Paul Trullinger, in 1913.

By 1915, Louise was a star in Portland but, getting restless living a bourgeois life married to, of all things, a dentist. Even the laughing gas parties had become a bore. But her life changed forever when she met John Reed, a war correspondent and committed radical who was in Portland visiting his family. The attraction was mutual, instant, and intense. Jack’s boyish energy, infectious idealism, and burly physique belied his delicate health and chronic kidney problem. He was not without contradictions either: a Harvard classmate said, quite truthfully, he was as “American as apple pie” – a description that later carried some irony when Jack became the first American to be buried at the foot of the Kremlin Wall.

After falling in love with Louise, Jack wrote a friend, “I have found her at last. She’s two years younger… wild and brave and straight, and graceful and lovely to look at.” Louise was indeed “lovely,” but actually two years older, something Jack never discovered thanks to the San Francisco earthquake. In short order, Louise dumped the dentist and moved to Greenwich Village to be with Jack.

Greenwich Village in the period before World War I was the center of the arts, leftist politics and sexual liberation, as close as America got to the Left Bank. Reed’s circle of friends was composed of radicals like him who looked with disdain on the “Uptowners,” the moralists north of 14th Street. They looked with disdain too on the newly arrived Louise Bryant; her beauty led all to assume she was vapid and unintelligent, one friend sniping, “Jack’s found himself a willing colleen.” But leave it to a profoundly homely anarchist, Emma Goldman, to come up with the real zinger, “I do wish sometimes I were as shallow as a Louise Bryant; everything would be so simple.”

Almost overnight the darling of Portland became the dud of Greenwich Village.

In time Louise found her voice, a modicum of

acceptance and a few friends who realized she was more than a shallow colleen. A peripheral figure on the scene was the morose, alcoholic Eugene O’Neill who arrived after a stay at a tuberculosis sanitarium and an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Jack was

particularly generous to him, urging O’Neill, who preferred the company of vagrants and sailors, to join the “Social Register of Greenwich Village

Bohemia” as they wended their way to Provincetown Massachusetts in the summer of 1916. Louise was later to write of that time, “Never were so many people in America who wrote or painted or acted ever thrown together in one place.”

The Provincetown Players were a visionary theatre group, the first to recognize O’Neill’s genius and staged his one-act play Bound East for Cardiff. During the production O’Neill fell hopelessly in love with Louise but, out of loyalty to Jack, kept his feelings to himself. It was left to Louise to make the first move, sending him a note that suggested urgency, “I must see you alone.” They met, and in this small fishing village Louise came up with quite a fish tale – Jack, she confided to O’Neill, was too ill for a sexual relationship, his kidney and all that. He believed her, free love and all that, and they began their affair, one that everyone in the tight-knit community (saving Jack Reed) knew about. It was a classic love triangle, a theme that first appeared in the playwright’s Strange Interlude and would continue to reappear throughout his work.

On their return to New York, O’Neill stayed with the theatre company but was heartbroken when Jack and Louise headed upstate and married. Marriage might be a bourgeois convention, but Jack felt it a necessary one, since he was having kidney surgery and wanted to protect Louise if he died. He recovered, but his convalescence in Baltimore was prolonged, leaving Louise the opportunity to reunite with O’Neill. Free love got even more complicated after Jack’s return, when she found him in bed with the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Hardly the longsuffering, faithful wife, Louise nonetheless ran out of the house in hysterics and didn’t speak to Jack for months.

But when it seemed the United States might enter World War I, Jack and Louise focused and jilted, respectively, the poet and the playwright. Together they traveled the country, speaking out against a war that would have the working man fight and die for capitalists. When their country did enter the war in 1917, the couple turned to the revolution fomenting in Russia; this would be their chance to see the proletariat rise up.

As soon as Louise and Jack arrived in Russia in 1917, they seemed to be always in the right place at the right time, witnessing one of the most important events of the 20th century. They were there on October 23, 1917, when Lenin secretly entered Petrograd to lead the Bolshevik overthrow of the provisional government. Reed’s reportage became his book, Ten Days That Shook the World, a classic still read today. The kid from Oregon made no secret of his advocacy for the new Russia, “They no longer needed priests to pray them into heaven. On earth they were building a kingdom brighter than any heaven had to offer.”

<em>Louise Bryant in Greenwich Village in 1916.</em>

Louise Bryant in Greenwich Village in 1916.

Louise, originally charged with giving “the woman’s angle” to the Revolution, outgrew that assignment, giving a first-hand account of action, including getting shot at and almost killed. She interviewed all the key players, including Lenin and Trotsky, for her book, Six Red Months in Russia. Her writing is vivid and powerful, Trotsky has a personality “like Marat, vehement and serpent-like” and Lenin is “monotonous and dogged…with absolute moral indifference.”

Jack needed to remain in the Soviet Union, so Louise returned to New York alone, now a recognized Russian authority, and an instant celebrity on the lecture circuit. Inspired by the liberated women she saw in Russia, she used her new fame to again lead suffrage protests, even landing in a Washington jail. Her vanity, never tiny, was now amped up, emboldening her to contact O’Neill, now in a relationship with Louise-lookalike, Alice Boulton. Once again Louise wrote saying she “must see” him, claiming she had just tromped thousands of miles of frozen terrain to be with him and would even forgive him for being with “some girl in the Village.”

O’Neill, sorely tempted by his long-term temptress, wisely declined. No matter, Louise moved on knowing Jack at last was on his way home. But once he landed in New York, Jack was arrested for violating the Espionage Act and forbidden to leave America. This was a problem: he needed to return to Russia to get their support for the American Communist party.

No less a personage then James Larkin, Irish Republican and socialist, who was in New York, stepped in. Larkin got Reed forged papers and smuggled him out of the country on a Swedish freighter. But as soon as Jack arrived in Finland, he was put in prison on the orders of a party operative, the shifty Grigory Zinoviev. When Louise got word that Jack was freezing and starving in a Finnish jail, she was determined to get to him. Finally, after months of really tromping through frozen terrain, she found him, “sadder and older” (he was 32). It was 1920 and they were both disillusioned with the Revolution, disgusted with the Bolsheviks’ lust for power, and saw the leaders as dictators and executioners. Both wondered if they had been played – were they a pair of what Lenin would call “useful idiots”?

Louise was by his side when Jack, much reduced by a year of imprisonment, died of typhus in 1920, a few days short of his 33rd birthday. Despite his recent treatment by the authorities, Jack’s funeral was one of pageantry; the Russians now claimed him as a mythic figure in their history. His widow was front and center until she fainted and was hospitalized – Louise had gotten all the drama she had dreamt about as a young girl.

The third act of Louise’s life started well. She traveled throughout Europe as a foreign correspondent for William Randolph Hearst and it was in Paris she met William C. Bullitt of Philadelphia, a millionaire and former diplomat. Bullitt, as men do, fell madly in love with Louise, pursued her across Europe and finally off-loaded his socialite wife. Much like Louise scandalized Portland in 1916, she and Bullitt were the talk of Paris when they married in 1923. Again, playing the San Francisco earthquake card, she told Bullitt she was 29 when she was actually 38. The communist was soon living the life of a rich man’s wife in Paris and gave birth to a daughter, Anne Moen Bullitt, the “Moen” a tribute to her long-forgotten maiden name, Mohan.

<em>William C. Bullitt, Bryant's third husband, who in 1933 became the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.</em>

William C. Bullitt, Bryant’s third husband, who in 1933 became the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union.

Janet Flanner of the New Yorker introduced Louise to the lesbian subculture of the Left Bank – Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein and sculptor, Gwen Le Gallienne, with whom Louise began an affair. Then, almost as if she were paying for her sins, however venial, Louise developed a rare and disfiguring disease, Adiposis dolorosa. The disease caused fatty tumors to develop under her skin; there was no cure but much suffering and Louise, never much of a drinker, turned to absinthe – and lots of it – to ease her pain. The gross Adiposis, the alcoholism and the lesbian affair were all too much for Bullitt, who divorced Louise, gaining custody of Anne.

Bullitt took Anne to Ireland, where she was to spend most of her childhood while Louise kept trying and failing to get news of her daughter. (The news her mother never heard was that Anne Moen Bullitt lived out her life on a 700-acre estate in County Kildare, where she became one of Ireland’s first female horse breeders.)

Janet Flanner once offered a horrifying picture of Louise’s last days: “It was a rainy night when I was walking along Rue Vavin in Montparnasse. Literally out of the gutter rose a terrifying creature. Her face was so warped I didn’t recognize her.” Louise died penniless in a $2-a-night hotel in 1936. She was 50 (really).

Somerset Maugham fictionalized her downfall in The Razor’s Edge, where she was “Sophie,” an addicted American expatriate who descended into drugs and promiscuity. Her biographer, Mary Dearborn, offers a newer, revisionist take, seeing Louise as a true 20th-century heroine, her place in history stolen by “gender politics” and a vindictive ex-husband, Bullitt, who warehoused her papers in a Dublin basement. But the last word should go to Eugene O’Neill, who knew her best. Hearing of her death, he said she was “a great woman, something out of the old Irish legends, betrayed by life.” ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co- writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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Window on the Past: A Savior of History https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/a-savior-of-history/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/a-savior-of-history/#respond Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:22:02 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39650 Read more..]]> John Gilmary Shea preserved much of the existing knowledge of the beginnings of American Catholicism.


Considering the Irish-American influence on U.S. Catholicism, it makes sense that someone of Irish descent – John Gilmary Shea – undertook to preserve much of the existing knowledge of the beginnings of American Catholicism. A prolific writer and dogged rescuer of rare manuscripts, Shea became known as the “father of American Catholic history.” At this point, however, his name receives rather little attention.

Shea was born in New York City on July 22, 1824. His mother came from an established New England family of part-Irish lineage, and his father was a native of County Limerick who emigrated to the U.S. at age 25 and later served as principal of the Columbia College grammar school in New York City. In this same school, the younger Shea received his early education. A sickly youth, those who knew him well “realized that only the greatest care would carry him to mature manhood,” wrote Peter Guilday in his book John Gilmary Shea: Father of American Catholic History, 1824-1892.

Too frail to partake in sports, Shea gravitated to reading and at a young age evinced a strong interest in Catholic history. In his early teens, he took a job as a clerk for a Spanish merchant in order to learn the Spanish language. He then wrote a biography of Cardinal Alvarez Carrillo de Arbornoz, which saw publication in the Young People’s Catholic Magazine. Shea later attended and graduated from St. John’s College (now known as Fordham University).

As he continued to pursue his interest in Catholic history, he studied law and gained admittance to the New York State bar in 1846. Two years later, though, he entered the Society of Jesus. Upon entering the Society, he discarded his given middle name, Dawson, and adopted the middle name of Gilmary (“servant of Mary”). He would retain this new name for the rest of his life, even though he left the Jesuits in 1852, having realized that his primary vocation was neither as a priest nor as a lawyer, but as a historian.

Shortly after becoming a layman again, he married one Sophie Savage in 1854. They proceeded to have two daughters, who would eventually assist their father as research aides in his historical endeavors. The same year Shea married, he published his History of the Catholic Missions Among the Native American Tribes of the United States, 1529-1854, which explored the efforts made by French, Spanish, and English-speaking priests.

When Shea’s historical career began, U.S. Catholic history was largely untouched terrain, and most American Catholics had little to no knowledge of the historical progress of the Church in their country. Worse yet, materials related to the Church in early America were being discarded, either out of ignorance of their value or, in some cases, due to anti-Catholic sentiment.

Shea – who wrote an editorial calling on Catholic institutions to use more care with their oldest manuscripts – safeguarded many preciously obscure records, thereby facilitating the survival of information on early American Catholicism.

He also authored many religious textbooks for schoolchildren and helped illuminate the efforts made by Catholics in the American Revolutionary War. Furthermore, he founded the U.S. Catholic Historical Magazine, the stated purpose of which was “to tell the story of the early struggles of priest and faithful, of heroic effort and often of heroic death.” Additionally, he served as editor for such publications as Sadlier’s Catholic Almanac and the Catholic News.

Both Fordham and Georgetown universities awarded Shea honorary degrees, and he was the first ever recipient of the Laetare Medal, which the University of Notre Dame awards each year to a member of the Catholic laity who exemplifies excellence of work and character. Upon receiving this medal in 1883, he declared, “What I have done is little, terribly little, in comparison to the work that lies untouched.” Modest in public, he remained a quiet, reclusive and almost cloistral figure, as related by his biographer, Guilday, who adds of Shea: “his was a life with the past rather than with the present.”

Some intensity in the present was needed, however, for him to undertake his extensive works on the past, most notably his four-volume History of the Catholic Church in the United States. In the preface to the first volume, he admitted his recurring regrets at having attempted such a colossal endeavor.

Though it exhausted him in his final years and went unfinished at the time of his death, Shea’s magnum opus would inform and inspire many thousands of Catholics, be they priests, nuns, or laypersons. His works were influential but not very lucrative for him. In fact, most of his steady pay came from editing popular, non-Catholic magazines, and even this income could prove insufficient, as he twice had to sell his library in order to alleviate financial hardship.

In January 1889, while entering an elevator in Manhattan, the 64-year-old Shea slipped, injuring his left kneecap and rupturing a ligament. He never fully recovered from this accident, and amid his otherwise declining health, he knew he was racing against mortality in the effort to complete his mammoth History. The race ended on February 22, 1892, when he died at age 67 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. On his deathbed, he had worked out an agreement with Georgetown University, which acquired his library in exchange for some financial assistance to his surviving family. This library, along with a collection of the historian’s correspondence and manuscripts, is currently found in the university library’s special collections division.

Despite his cautious and dedicated research, Shea’s works are not flawlessly accurate, though his errors often resulted from his being unable to access all the necessary source materials. Whatever his shortcomings, they were not due to a lack of objectivity: he pursued the historical truth wherever it took him, even if it forced him to reveal something undesirable about the Church. He also omitted some items that many in the Church accepted as fact but which he deemed as unhistorical.

On some occasions, Shea incurred criticism from priests who felt his works were not sufficiently pro-Church. As much as he valued his religion, when it came to his vocation, the primary bias was pro-history.


This article was published in the January / February 2019 issue of Irish America.  ♦

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Wild Irish Women: Dr. James Barry https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/wild-irish-women-dr-james-barry/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/wild-irish-women-dr-james-barry/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:56:53 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=38558 Read more..]]> The famous British Army surgeon was actually an Irish woman.


Dr. James Barry was born in County Cork as Margaret Anne Bulkley, the daughter of Jeremiah and Mary-Ann (neé Barry). Accounts vary on the year of her birth but whether it was 1789 or 1795, women were denied a formal education. Her father was a feckless grocer who lost his business, landed in debtors’ prison and last seen on a convict ship to Australia. Alone and penniless, Margaret and her mother emigrated to London where they lived with her uncle, James Barry, a successful painter, progressive thinker and major eccentric.

Uncle James had a coterie of rich, radical patrons including General Francisco de Miranda and David Stuart Erskine who became impressed and obsessed by Margaret’s intelligence. Devout feminists all, these de facto godfathers vowed to get her a medical degree especially since Miranda’s soldiers back in Venezuela needed a doctor. Together they devised a plan, a trope that dates back to Greek Literature – Margaret Anne would dress as a man. Taking the names of her uncle and godfathers, Margaret Anne Bulkley became James Miranda Stuart Barry. Now she was a he.

With taped breasts and a heavy overcoat lined with fluff, the newly christened James Barry enrolled in the University of Edinburgh. He impressed everyone with his brilliant mind but became something of a curiosity. There was the baby face (absent an Adam’s Apple), height (barely five feet), squeaky voice and bursts of violent temper. Rumors spread, not that he was female, but a pre-pubescent boy. He received his MD at the tender age of 22, noting in his final thesis, he was a “man of understanding,” something he remained for the next 56 years.

<em>Sketch of Dr. James Barry.</em>

Sketch of Dr. James Barry.

Even when he was Margaret Anne Bulkley, James Barry would announce to anyone in earshot, “Were I not a girl, I would be a soldier!”  By the time he graduated, General Miranda was dead and so was Barry’s Venezuela plans. After receiving his Royal College of Surgeons diploma, he entered the British military, passing what must have been a cursory army physical. It was 1812 and Dr. James Barry, army surgeon, was appointed Medical Inspector for Cape Town South Africa.

Something of a health nut, Dr. Barry was a teetotaler and vegetarian who kept a pet goat for its milk. Always at odds with his superiors, he raged at them about unsanitary hospital conditions and kept raging until he singlehandedly revolutionized healthcare in Cape Town. Revolutionary too was his open-mindedness – he treated everybody, not just wealthy whites but colonials, slaves, the poor, mentally ill and prisoners. Throughout his career, he had an odd affinity for lepers, treating them with almost saintly compassion.

His patients adored him but not so much his co-workers and administrators who found him foul-mouthed, short-tempered and, considering his looks, full of an absurd vanity. His short fuse had much to do with the effort he undertook to look and behave as a man. Barry had by his side for 50 years, a West Indian manservant, John Danson, who supervised the makeover. John – who, it should be noted, never saw Barry naked – would obscure curves, strategically place padding and add height, courtesy of 3-inch shoe lifts. The manservant set aside extra primping time since the doctor was, ironically, a ladies’ man, thanks to his light-footedness on the dance floor.

<em>Barry, left, with John, his servant, and Barry's dog Psyche, circa 1862, Jamaica.</em>

Barry, left, with John, his servant, and Barry’s dog Psyche, circa 1862, Jamaica.

His toilette over, Dr. Barry emerged in a scarlet jacket, a plumed hat covering the wig that covered his frizzy red hair and a saber draping his tiny physique. The saber was essential since Barry, quick to take offense, would challenge anyone to a duel or threaten to cut off the villain’s ears if he heard a slight against his low stature or high voice. He and John always traveled with Barry’s beloved poodle, Psyche, and a menagerie of small animals.

Dr. Barry proved unstoppable. He developed a plant-based treatment for syphilis and gonorrhea, promoted the novel concept of clean water and a healthy diet, introduced the smallpox vaccination to the colony, twenty years before it was introduced in England. At a time when doctors avoided lady parts and delivering babies, Dr. Barry was, not surprisingly, a most popular OB-GYN. He performed the first successful Caesarean section, meaning both mother and baby lived, in the British Empire.

And there was a scandal. Cape Town gossip had it that he was having an “unnatural” affair with the colony’s governor, Lord Charles Somerset, a man Barry once called “my almost only friend.” Vulgar posters announcing the governor was “buggering Dr. Barry” or referring to the doctor as his “little wife” were everywhere. Rumors intensified when Barry moved into Somerset’s estate especially as Somerset had politically and monetarily backed the doctor’s reforms. As homosexuality was a serious crime, the Crown set up an investigation; both men were exonerated but soon afterwards, the doctor, likely heartbroken, left Cape Town. It was the only time Dr. James Barry found romance and if the relationship was sexual it would have been…curious.

<em>Portrait of James Barry, painted circa 1813–1816.</em>

Portrait of James Barry, painted circa 1813–1816.

After Cape Town, Barry served as Medical Inspector in posts throughout the Empire from Jamaica to Malta to Canada. Wherever it was necessary, the cross-dressing, globe-trotting surgeon established a leper colony. Wherever he was posted, he fought for sanitation and universal healthcare while remaining insubordinate to his superiors. He went AWOL in Jamaica saying he needed a “proper haircut.” In St. Helena, he bypassed top officers to petition the Home Office for medical supplies and was summarily court-martialed for “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.”

His career trajectory zigged and zagged. Stationed in Malta, Dr. Barry again found himself in good favor when the Duke of Wellington commended him for instituting public sanitation and preventing a typhus epidemic. He was promoted to the highest rank an army doctor could reach, Inspector-General of British Hospitals, the equivalent of Brigadier-General. Lord Raglan, commander of the British Forces during the Crimean War, asked the now-eminent doctor to pay a “social visit” to the battlefield.

Even though he was on leave, Dr. Barry went to Scutari, the site of an infamous hospital where more soldiers died of infection than battle wounds. It was also the site of his infamous fight with Florence Nightingale, pet of Queen Victoria. In his salty style he upbraided Nightingale about her hat or lack of, she called him a “brute” and so began a mutual and a lifelong hatred. Nightingale did improve sanitation conditions at Scutari but her achievements paled next to Barry’s, some 30 years earlier, in Cape Town. The Empire ignored his feat but continued to glorify its beloved “Lady with the Lamp”– this realization may have inspired Barry’s snit but the spat forever diminished his reputation. He was denied the knighthood his career merited, his army transgressions were revisited and Nightingale assured his omission from her Royal Commission on Army Doctors. Her legacy was as a National Treasure, his legacy was as a “footnote in Imperial Oddities.”

<em>Florence Nightingale called Barry "a brute."</em>

Florence Nightingale called Barry “a brute.”

In his play “Whistling Psyche,” Sebastian Barry imagines the two combatants sharing a room in the afterlife. The doctor despairs of a life lived in ambiguity, “I am that other sort of creature, neither white nor black, nor brown nor even green, but the strange original that is an Irish person.” Florence has her say too, describing Barry as “a dwarf… shriveled and shrunken in his rather gorgeous uniform.” Even Psyche the poodle isn’t spared, “a little black dog with hair seemingly growing out of its very eyeballs…”

In a pointed and final gesture, the army posted Barry in Canada, a cruel destination for one of advanced age who had spent years in the tropics; he became ill and was forced him into retirement. Barry returned to London where he died in 1865 of dysentery, a disease he spent his career fighting in the colonies. He left strict orders that he be buried in the clothes he was wearing, a dictate that was ignored. When the nurse undressed him, the secret was out: Dr. James Barry “had the body of a woman, a perfect female” including stretch marks from childbirth.

Speculation on the stretch marks still continues. Was the pregnancy the result of a rape Margaret Anne endured as a girl? Or was the baby the love child of Barry and Somerset? His deathbed sex secret scandalized the Victorian establishment, Nightingale gloated, Dickens had an opinion, the army put only a sandstone marker on his grave and closed off access to his papers for 100 years.

<em>Photograph of Dr. James Barry taken approximately in the late 1840s.</em>

Photograph of Dr. James Barry taken approximately in the late 1840s.

Today, feminists see Dr. James Barry as an icon for women while the LGBTQ communities believe the doctor is a true trans hero. If you take the “he’s a she” argument, Barry would be the first woman doctor in Britain (50 years before the other “first women doctor,” Elizabeth Garrett), first woman to rise to the rank of general in the British Army and the first woman to perform a successful Caesarean section. Those who take the opposite side, “she’s a he,” reject gender binaries. They assert that for 56 years, Barry presented as a man, identified as a man and only used masculine pronouns when writing or talking about himself. After he transformed or transitioned at age 14, he never wanted his secret revealed – only Psyche saw him in the nude.

It’s a gender bender but really, what difference does it make? James Barry was fearless, a brilliant doctor and public health reformer sympathetic to patients on the margins of society. When Major McKibben, the doctor who signed the death certificate, was pressed to identify the sex of Dr. James Barry, he snapped, “None of your business!” ♦


Rosemary Rogers co-authored, with Sean Kelly, the best-selling humor / reference book Saints Preserve Us! Everything You Need to Know About Every Saint You’ll Ever Need (Random House, 1993), currently in its 18th international printing. The duo collaborated on four other books for Random House and calendars for Barnes & Noble. Rogers co-wrote two info / entertainment books for St. Martin’s Press. She is currently co- writing a book on empires for City Light Publishing.

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The Irish Nightingaleof the Civil War https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/the-irish-nightingaleof-the-civil-war/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/the-irish-nightingaleof-the-civil-war/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:54:25 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=38580 Read more..]]> “The Irish-American Florence Nightingale” of the Civil War – Sister Mary Anthony.


The name of this Civil War medical pioneer has unjustly slipped between history’s proverbial cracks.  Still, her legacy flourishes:  “Her innovative triage techniques remain standard practices in every theater of war where American troops fight.” Those words come from a 2003 Pentagon report. They laud Sister Mary Anthony, “the Irish-American Florence Nightingale,” the woman whose innovations saved untold numbers of lives on the battlefields of the Civil War.

Her mission first unfolded amid the carnage of Shiloh, where her kind, consoling features proved the final earthly sight of many Yankees and Rebels. The middle-aged woman clad in the habit of the Sisters of Charity covered virtually every inch of the bloody turf, from the Hornet’s Nest to the banks of the Tennessee River, comforting the wounded, praying over the dead and dying, and directing stretcher bearers’ evacuation of the wounded to Union ships.

Sister Anthony, Mary (Murphy) O’Connell, had come a long way from her native Limerick and from the Ursuline Female Academy of Boston. Poverty, the arduous passage across the Atlantic and the prejudice of Boston Brahmins and Yankee workmen had not crushed Mary O’Connell’s spirit.  Instead, her character and resolve “were like forged iron.”

<em>Sister Mary Anthony O'Connell</em>

Sister Mary Anthony O’Connell.

Mary O’Connell was born in County Limerick on August 15, 1814, the daughter of William and Catherine (Murphy) O’Connell.  Tragedy arrived early in Mary’s life with the death of her mother when the girl was twelve.  In 1817, the “forgotten famine,” a harbinger of the Great Famine of the 1840s, engulfed Ireland and sent rising numbers of the Irish to America.  Among the “ragged refuse” who trudged aboard leaky, ancient merchant ships were the O’Connells.

The exact date of the O’Connells’ immigration to Boston is unknown, but the fact that Mary received her education at Charlestown’s prestigious Ursuline Academy, where the nuns taught girls age six to eighteen years, indicates that the family set foot among “the icicles of Yankee land” sometime in the 1820s.  Immigrant Irish families of the day lived mainly in the city’s North End, numbering about seven thousand by 1830 and beleaguered by Yankee mobs, who periodically vandalized Irish neighborhoods on Broad, Pond, Merrimac, and Ann Streets.

Many Irish girls of Mary O’Connell’s age worked as maids in Boston’s hotels and brownstone mansions, in many cases enduring the harsh epithets and whims of Brahmin families or in other, rarer instances becoming valued members of households. Mary was luckier in many respects than her peers, for she was accepted as a student at the Ursuline school, where she boarded with forty or so other girls. Only a handful, however, were Irish Catholics. Most of the young ladies were Protestants, boasting such Yankee pedigrees as Parkman, Endicott, and Adams. Because of the outstanding education offered by the Ursulines, a handful of Brahmin families laid aside anti-Catholic prejudice and packed off their pampered daughters to the graceful, three-story brick academy and to the ministrations of the nuns.

<em>Sister Mary Anthony O'Connell tending to a wounded soldier.</em>

Sister Mary Anthony O’Connell tending to a wounded soldier.

In August 1834, when a mob of Yankee workmen ransacked and torched the convent in a spasm of anti-Catholic rage, Mary O’Connell was twenty and had already graduated.  The influence of her Ursuline mentors had ignited a vocation in her, but unlike her teachers, she did not yearn to educate daughters of privilege.  She wanted to minister to the poor and the sick, and in June 1835 she was accepted into the convent of the American Sisters of Charity Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Leaving behind the familiar streets of the Irish North End, she could never shake images of the charred remnants of the Ursuline convent, testimony to the cultural and social obstacles confronting all Irish–Catholic immigrants and particularly their clerics and nuns. Mary O’Connell embraced both her challenges and her faith. She took her final vows in early 1837, and in March of that year, was assigned to Cincinnati’s St. Peter’s Orphanage.

As Sister Mary Anthony, she worked tirelessly with the city’s poor children, combining kindness with an intellect both keen and pragmatic, and rose steadily in her order’s hierarchy.  By 1852, she was appointed procuratrix of Cincinnati’s St. John’s Hotel for Invalids.  Nursing the sick had evolved into her true mission, and her medical skills would soon prove critical in a catastrophe about to engulf the entire nation.  On April 12, 1861, the roar of Confederate cannon pounding Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, heralded the foremost challenge of Sister Anthony’s career.

<em>Union soldiers bringing in the wounded.</em>

Union soldiers bringing in the wounded.

Shortly after war was declared, Sister Anthony and several of her fellow nuns began to tend to Union troops ravaged by a measles outbreak at Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati. Her compassion and her knowledge of the latest nursing techniques earned her the plaudits of the camp’s officers and the attention of the Union’s chief medical body, the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Like Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix, Sister Anthony was about to reform traditional, often harmful methods of treating wounded soldiers.

The first flash of the Irishwoman’s evolving impact upon military medicine materialized during General Ulysses S. Grant’s victorious assault upon Fort Donelson in early 1862. For surgical staffs, the campaign, fought along Kentucky’s Cumberland River, posed a formidable problem in the transport of wounded soldiers from battlefields to “floating hospital ships.”  From the gunwales of Union riverboats and on the battlefield, Sister Anthony devised techniques in which medical teams and stretcher–bearers sent the most severely wounded to the ships first, dispensing with the traditional practice of carting off the injured at random. Her methods, the first recognizably modern triage techniques in war zones, saved countless lives through faster hospital treatment and won her praise from President Abraham Lincoln. In tandem with her innovations in transport and treatment, she formulated fast and effective nursing programs for female hospital volunteers.

<em>Sister Mary Anthony's newspaper obituary.</em>

Sister Mary Anthony’s newspaper obituary.

In early April 1862, Sister Mary Anthony boarded a hospital ship chartered by the Sanitary Commission and packed with other nurses and physicians, including George Curtis Blackman, one of America’s foremost surgeons. He had personally selected Sister Anthony as his chief assistant. Their destination was a Tennessee River site called Shiloh, where one of the bloodiest battles in America’s annals was raging.

Nearly 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers littered the muddy battlefield by April 17, 1862, their moans and shrieks pealing above the riverbank. Sister Anthony moved swiftly through the carnage and oversaw the transport of casualties to the waiting ships. As always, she made no distinction between Federal or Rebel soldiers; she saw only the extent of the wound. Once she returned to the “floating hospital,” she took her place as Dr. Blackman’s “right arm” at the surgical table, mixing her practical skills with moral support for men torn apart by musket balls, grape shot, and bayonets.

<em>Mother Anthony O'Connell</em>

Mother Anthony O’Connell.

At Shiloh, Sister Anthony not only proved an “angel of the battlefield,” but also cemented her burgeoning status as a luminary in wartime medicine.  She used her clout to compel the Catholic Church to train rising numbers of nuns as nurses, winning the admiration of even anti-Catholic Americans.

The Catholic Church officially assigned Sister Anthony to the U.S. Army of the Cumberland on September 1, 1862, at the request of the Sanitary Commission. She ran the nursing teams at Base Hospital 14 at Nashville and comforted not only battered troops, but also runaway slaves suffering from smallpox. Sister Anthony’s efforts on the battlefield and in the floating hospitals and the surgical tents alike led the government to commemorate her service and that of her fellow Sisters of Charity.

<em>Nuns of the battlefield bas relief by Jerome Connor.</em>

Nuns of the battlefield bas relief by Jerome Connor.

After the Civil War, Sister Mary Anthony continued her life of good works. She died of natural causes in Cincinnati at the age of 87. Her funeral, in December 1897, filled the city’s cathedral with mourners, and outside, another throng gathered to honor the gentle Sister of Charity.  Whenever asked where she had come from, she had invariably replied, “Ireland­–by way of Boston.”

Although the names of Barton and Dix would eclipse that of Sister Anthony, the Irish immigrant, in a career of quiet brilliance, had proven her mettle second to none. In famine-wracked Limerick, in the anti-Irish streets of Boston, in the classrooms of Charlestown’s ill-fated Ursuline convent, and on the battlefields of the Civil War, Mary O’Connell’s transformation from an impoverished immigrant girl to the “Irish-American Florence Nightingale” had unfolded with dignity, compassion and sheer selflessness.  Today, a portrait of Sister Mary Anthony hangs in the Smithsonian. ♦

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Retracing the Footstepsof the Last Gaelic Kingof Ireland in Rome https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/retracing-the-footstepsof-the-last-gaelic-kingof-ireland-in-rome/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/retracing-the-footstepsof-the-last-gaelic-kingof-ireland-in-rome/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:53:30 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=38595 Read more..]]> Why it’s time to reclaim the last days and figureheads of the old Gaelic world.


Stories matter, so here’s a good one. Four hundred and ten years ago this November the last two living Gaelic lords of Ulster arrived in Rome, uncertain of their welcome and feeling physically spent.

They were Rory O’Donnell former King of Tír Conaill, now the Earl of Tyrconnell, (with his brother Cathbharr) and Hugh O’Neill the Earl of Tyrone (with his son Hugh, the Baron of Dungannon).

If they felt like their world had collapsed they could be forgiven, because it had. Cruelly exiled a year earlier, their hasty departure from Ireland had signaled the final collapse of the old Gaelic order. One year later they arrived in Rome, after a perilous journey across Europe and the Alps that had been physically punishing for all of them.

We know that it was from the detailed account given in the Turas na dTaoiseach/the Departure of the Lords, the diary of the Flight of the Earls which was was kept by Tadhg Óg Ó Cianáin, a member of O’Neill’s retinue who journeyed with them from Rathmullen, County Donegal all the way to Rome.

<em>Steps from Trastevere toward the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.</em>

Steps from Trastevere toward the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.

The abrupt change in their fortunes must have broken their hearts. O’Neill was the same man who had once defeated Queen Elizabeth’s generals in Ulster, and who had effortlessly outmaneuvered the Earl of Essex, who led the biggest English army ever to Ireland to suppress his island-wide revolt.

But now it looked like their story had run out. All three members of O’Neill’s exalted company, minus the O’Neill himself, would be dead within the year.

I grew up on the shore of scenic Lough Swilly in County Donegal, the giant fjord that they had originally set sail from in 1607, and this June, four hundred and ten years later, I had an unexpected opportunity to visit Rome and go in search of O’Neill’s final resting place.

I felt called, to be honest. Growing up I had often wondered about them, O’Neill especially. Did he know he that was writing the last chapter of a great story, I wondered? Did he have the abiding sense of ending? Or did he hold out hope for a restoration, a return to power and to the old order?

<em>Steps toward the Church of San Pietro.</em>

Steps toward the Church of San Pietro.

The Annals of the Four Masters records O’Neill’s departure from Donegal: “That was a distinguished company for one ship, for it is most certain that the sea has not borne nor the wind wafted from Ireland in the latter times a party in any one ship more eminent, illustrious, and noble…” He was the among the first, and, as the Masters say, the most illustrious, of the centuries of Irish exiles that would follow. Millions of us have walked in his footsteps.

In Rome I booked rooms in Trastevere, the beautiful vine-covered neighborhood (which literally means “across the Tiber”) to the south of the Vatican. Maps on the internet had shown me I would be quite near to the church where O’Neill is buried, but on arrival I was astonished to discover I wasn’t just near it, I was literally at its foot. I had blindly thrown a dart at a map and hit bullseye.

Above my rooms lay a series of ancient steps that lead upward toward a steep hill, and at the top of that hill was the stately old church of San Pietro in Montorio. There are worse places to spend eternity. The elevated position catches the evening breezes and it looks out over the city’s fabled hills. A medieval tradition claims it was the site of Saint Peter’s crucifixion. It was twilight when I reached it.

Exile was such a fateful reversal for O’Neill. In Ireland he had been the chieftain of Tyrone and the most powerful lord in Ulster, but in Rome he was a political fugitive in need of aid, and a thorny political problem for the Vatican. The torturous political calculus of the period made him both a jewel and a pin, and that contradiction was never settled.

<em>Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium (tomb) built by Bellini.</em>

Tempietto, a small commemorative martyrium (tomb) built by Bellini.

Researching the place before my visit I read that the poet John Keats had visited San Pietro in 1820 and the painter Giovanni Battista Lusieri had painted his view of Rome from the piazza on the Janiculum Hill around that time. Bellini had designed the side chapel. Looking out from my vantage point on the little hill I realized instantly that the view has hardly changed. Rome really is the eternal city.

Impressive as all of this was I was only there to meet an Irishman, the last High King of Ireland, who is buried inside the San Pietro Chapel, near the altar. That’s his ossuary there on the left of this picture.

It’s a quiet place, fittingly sombre. It’s also a beautiful and antique place, and it was an easy matter to travel back the centuries to the time he would have known the place himself. After his departure from Ireland the Plantation began in earnest. It’s said that he maintained hope of a return to Ireland, but political events made it impossible. He eventually died in Rome on July 20, 1616.

The setting sun fell across the slab on the church floor as I viewed it. It was inscribed D.O.M. HUGONIS PRINCIPIS ONELLI OSSA (“To God the Best and the Greatest. The bones of Prince Hugh O’Neill”).

<em>The ossuary of Hugh O'Neill in Rome.</em>

The ossuary of Hugh O’Neill in Rome.

Looking at it, I realized something else had been driving me that I hadn’t been aware of until that moment. I deeply wished, I realized, that I could have one good look at him, but how he was whilst he was alive, speaking to him in both Irish and English, and also to his companions, including Hugh.

He was the last of the Mohicans, the O’Neill. A living link to an unbroken Gaelic lineage that stretched back into antiquity. He was deeply rooted in his land and his traditions. He was one of the last truly whole examples of a Gaelic man. It moved me just to be in his vicinity, four centuries later.

Looking around I also realized that I have never read of a single official Irish commemoration that has been held there to acknowledge the last chapter of his epic life. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of Irish people who have ever even asked me about him.

I know that Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich replaced his original ossuary stone in the 1980’s. I know that Irish scholars and individuals have made pilgrimages here over many decades, my own family members included. But we haven’t marked this final chapter, we haven’t given him the national wake and send off that he richly deserves.

<em>Hugh O'Neill's Headstone.</em>

Hugh O’Neill’s Headstone.

I think we should. I think we should remember O’Neill’s epic journey and his great loss, which was our own great loss, and the start of many further ones. I think we could commemorate him now without stirring the wrath of the English, which was the fear during his own time.

And why should we commemorate him? Because the arrows that went up with the Normans came down with O’Neill, because he lived and embodied a fateful change in our history that we should honor and never forget.

Rome has preserved his remains for us but Ireland should preserve his memory. His story, as I wrote at the outset, matters profoundly. He stands at both the end and the beginning of a great shift in Irish history, and one way to come to terms with that lasting legacy is to commemorate what happened, to whom it happened, and for what it has made of us.

<em>Detail of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.</em>

Detail of the Church of San Pietro in Montorio.

Rome is a beautiful and complex city, with so many eras clamoring for a hearing that we can forgive the locals if they sometimes shout. Most Romans I spoke to were unaware the very last Gaelic lord of Ulster was buried in their midst, at the center of one of their most beautiful neighborhoods, in fact.

We should change that, for them and for us. We should restore a part of what was sundered, we should publicly commemorate his final resting place, reclaim his story, and welcome his memory home at last. It’s time. ♦

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Oliver St. John Gogarty! https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/oliver-st-john-gogarty/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/11/oliver-st-john-gogarty/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:49:12 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=38632 Read more..]]> Caricatured as “Buck Mulligan” in Joyce’s masterpiece, Oliver St. John Gogarty was more than just a swashbuckling figure – he was a poet, a playwright, a politician, and a renowned surgeon who operated for free on poor children.


“The physician must have at his command a certain ready wit . . .” – Hippocrates


Two famous Irish authors, both Dubliners (and former roommates), reacted very differently to the Easter Rising and its aftermath.

The younger of them, James Joyce, had already exiled himself to the continent. In February 1922, while Ireland’s tragic civil war raged, he published his great comic novel Ulysses. According to his biographer Richard Ellmann, when he was asked if he looked forward to the establishment of an Irish republic, Joyce answered, “Why? So that I might declare myself its first enemy?”

The older of the two, Oliver St. John Gogarty – caricatured as “Buck Mulligan” in Joyce’s masterpiece – had been active in the Sinn Féin movement from its inception. When the party was banned in 1919, he hid the Sinn Féin headquarters’ files in the trunk of his yellow Rolls Royce and made his Dublin home a safe house for (pre-Treaty) IRA gunmen on the run.

Gogarty was a swashbuckling figure: a champion athlete and swimmer, a pilot, a playwright, a poet, and, politician. He was a friend of W.B. Yeats, George Moore, George Russell (Æ), James Stephens, and other leaders of the Irish Literary Revival. He was famous as a wit: Moore described him as, “the arch-mocker, author of all the jokes that enable us to live in Dublin.”

He was also medical doctor, a successful ear, nose and throat surgeon, who made his private patients – he said – “pay through the nose,” so that he could operate for free on clergy, poor children, and actors.

That he was a skillful, if unorthodox, surgeon may be gathered from two anecdotes:

“Gogarty operated at great speed. Often he removed tonsils with only a local anesthetic, while the patient was sitting in a chair . . . As he worked away with his fingers flying, Gogarty talked continually, telling stories, making jokes, passing remarks, making allusions sometimes related to his work and sometimes not. In the Meath hospital, the surgeons operated together in one large theatre. Occasionally, as he operated with gusto, Gogarty would fire tonsils at his fellow surgeons across the theatre.” (The Times I’ve Seen by Ulick O’Connor, 1963.)

<em>Portrait of the Irish poet Oliver St. James Gogarty, painted by Sir WIlliam Orpen, currently housed at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.</em>

Portrait of the Irish poet Oliver St. James Gogarty, painted by Sir William Orpen, currently housed at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

“When he was consulted by a musician who had lost his voice and could make no sound nor utter a syllable, Gogarty suspected hysteria. He examined the man’s throat carefully, shining his light into the dark recess. Then he said, with great deliberation: “Your parents had syphilis.’ ‘They did not!’ exclaimed the musician. ‘You’re cured,’ said Gogarty.” (Oliver St. John Gogarty: The Man of Many Talents by J. B. Lyons, 1980.)

Unlike many physicians of his time, Dr. Gogarty was as concerned with preventative measures as with diagnosis and treatment. He was appalled by the unsanitary conditions in which the poor of Dublin were condemned to live.

His first play for the Abbey, Blight, was set in the slums. At its climax, its rascal anti-hero Stanislaus Tully declares, “Until the citizens realize that their children should be brought up in the most beautiful and favorable surroundings the city can afford, and not in the most squalid, until this floundering Moloch of a Government realize that they must spend more money on education than on police, this city will continue to be the breeding ground of disease, vice, hypocrisy, and discontent.”

In 1922, during the Civil War, Joyce’s partner Nora and their children Georgio and Lucia visited Galway (the place Joyce called “her native dunghill.”) When they were caught in crossfire, Joyce was convinced that he himself was the target, even though he was not there.

That was the year Gogarty’s home in Renvyle Connemara was looted for three days and then burned down by anti-treaty republicans. Most of the furniture and artifacts were carried off, but the books and paintings were all incinerated.

And it was the year Gogarty’s heart was broken by the death of his personal hero, Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Féin and, 10 days later, the assassination of his dear friend, IRA Commander-in-Chief, Michael Collins.

Dr. Gogarty embalmed both bodies.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Gogarty served in the Senate (Seanad Éireann) of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) from 1922 to 1937.

He was most passionate on the subject of sanitation in schools and in urban and rural housing. “The slums are really out-patients’ departments of 19 Dublin hospitals. The slums are that and disease factories . . . Unchanged for 30 years! Let our indignation become effective now!” He opposed a prudish censorship bill on the grounds that “it is high time the people of this country found some other way of loving God, than by hating women.” For fun, he objected that the statue of a phoenix in Phoenix Park was excluded from the “Wild Birds Protection Bill.”

The Anti-Treaty IRA singled out Free State senators for attacks and intimidation. In January 1923, armed republicans, using a woman as a decoy by pretending that she was a patient, entered Gogarty’s home and kidnapped him.

Gogarty was taken to a safe house on the banks of the Liffey, where he convinced his captors that, in Ulick O’Connor’s words, “his bowels were loosening with fright.” Once outside, Gogarty threw his coat over the head of a captor and jumped into the river Liffey.“Up to his neck in its ice-cold water he . . . promised two swans to the Liffey if permitted to land in safety.” (Yeats, preface to An Offering of Swans.)

The senator was an experienced swimmer (cf Ulysses pps 16-23) but only just made it to the far shore. (He later denigrated his achievement. Since Dublin’s toilets emptied into the river, he said, “I was only going through the movements.”)

In 1924 he fulfilled his promise and released a pair of swans into the Liffey.

Keep you these calm and lovely things,

And float them on your clearest water;

For one would not disgrace a King’s Transformed,

beloved and buoyant daughter.

The birds’ descendants grace the river yet.

An “Offering of Swans” was followed by seven more books of poems, and two marvelous memoirs, both still in print: As I Was Going Down Sackville Street: A Phantasy in Fact (1937), and Tumbling in the Hay (1939) and one, sadly, no longer in print: It Isn’t This Time of Year at All (1954).

<em>Oliver St. John Gogarty and W.B. Yeats following the releasing of the swans into the River Liffey, 1924.</em>

Oliver St. John Gogarty and W.B. Yeats following the releasing of the swans into the River Liffey, 1924.

Éamon de Valera (whom he held responsible for the deaths of Griffith and Collins and characterized as a “sixpenny Savonarola” and “a cross between a cormorant and a corpse”) came to power as Taoiseach in 1937. Gogarty immediately decamped to London and, in 1939, to New York City, his home until he died, in Beth Israel Hospital, on September 22, 1957. No doubt he did so with his customary courage.

Our friends go with us as we go

Down the long path where Beauty wends,

Where all we love forgathers, so

Why should we fear to join our friends?

The speaker of W. B. Yeats’s poem “High Talk,” “Malachi Stilt-Jack,” is likely a representation of Gogarty.

At Joyce’s death in 1941, a copy of Gogarty’s book I Follow St. Patrick was on his bedside table.

Gogarty planned to publish a collection of bawdy ballads entitled Ditties of No Tone or Cockcrows – the title undecided. The manuscript reposes in a Harvard library. One hopes the custodians will someday do the right thing.


With WWll in prospect, Dr. Gogarty, who was a licensed pilot, tried to join the RAF, but was rejected because of his age (61).

On September 14, 1939, he flew to the United States for a lecture tour that never really ended – although in the following years, he did occasionally return to Ireland to visit friends and family.

He took a New York City apartment on 61st Street between Madison and Park.

He lectured constantly at universities across America and continued to publish prolifically: 11 books between 1940 and his death in 1957, including two further memoirs, fiction, and poetry. As a famously witty conversationalist and literary lion, he was a most sought-after dinner or weekend guest.

Then, in the spring of 1950, Gogarty went too far.

In “They Think They Know Joyce,” a piece for the prestigious Saturday Review of Literature, he wrote, “When I think of anyone’s hailing Ulysses and Finnegans Wake as all the world’s erudition in disguise, the question of the sanity, or even the literacy, of the Joyce enthusiast arises.”

This was heresy, by the reckoning of the burgeoning American-Joyce-Academic-Industrial-Complex. (Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s Ulysses: a Study, had appeared in 1930; Harry Levin published his critical introduction in 1941; the James Joyce Society been founded in 1947.)

Although he was no longer the toast of New York’s high (brow) society, the great man’s company was still appreciated, for instance in the Irish bars on Third Avenue.

An example of his perennial wit was given to me by the late, nonpareil playwright Mark Connelly, who was present on the occasion.

Gogarty was in mid-anecdote to a rapt audience when someone interrupted, demanding directions to “the john.” “Downstairs and to the left,” Gogarty immediately informed him. “There’s a sign that says ‘gentlemen,’ but don’t let that stop you.”

Gogarty suffered from heart complaints during the last few years of his life, and in September 1957 he collapsed in the street on his way to dinner. He died on September 22, 1957; his body was flown home to Ireland and buried in Cartron Church, Moyard, near Renvyle, Co. Galway. ♦

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Suffragette Sheehy Skeffington Honored https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/suffragette-sheehy-skeffington-honored/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/suffragette-sheehy-skeffington-honored/#comments Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:57:15 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=37502 Read more..]]> On Thursday, June 13, 1912, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, and a group of suffragettes, smashed windows in Dublin Castle to highlight the “woman’s right to vote” cause. It was an offense for which she would spent a month in prison.

106 years later to the day, near to the windows that were smashed, President Michael D. Higgins unveiled a plaque honoring Sheehy Skeffington’s efforts in the struggle for Irish independence, and women’s suffrage.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in 1916. Photo: Wikipedia

Sheehy Skeffington also co-founded the Irish Women’s Franchise League, and fought for justice after her husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, was shot and killed during the 1916 Easter Rising by a British Army patrol. President Higgins, in recognizing Skeffington, also pointed out that the role of Irish women in nation-building has often been ignored. “For far too long, the historical contribution of Irish women in the struggle for emancipation, independence, and equality, and to our social life, has been overlooked,” he said.

Plaque to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington.

The request for placement of the plaque had been submitted by Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, whose recent lecture tour of the United States, recreating her grandmother’s 1917 journey to promote Irish independence, was recorded in a documentary entitled Hanna and Me: Passing on the Flame. ♦  Dave Lewis 

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An Old Henge Emerges at Newgrange https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/an-old-henge-emerges-at-newgrange/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/an-old-henge-emerges-at-newgrange/#respond Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:56:44 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=37531 Read more..]]> While Ireland’s early summer heatwave brought some misery, it brought archaeologists and history enthusiasts great joy. The drought revealed an Neolithic wonder called a henge near the ancient site of Newgrange in County Meath.

Hidden to the naked eye for centuries, the henge’s location was captured by a drone flown over the Boyne Valley by Anthony Murphy. It’s something the historian and author does on a regular basis.

Murphy explained, in an RTÉ report, that moisture lodges in the archaeological features, probably timber posts, making the crop greener than that grown in the surrounding soil.

The henge is believed to have been built 500 years after Newgrange, which is 5,000 years old, a thousand years older than Stonehenge, and older than the Egyptian pyramids by 400 years. Six days later, also in the area, archaeologists discovered a Megalithic passage tomb. Given that the henge is on private property, all surface traces of the historic site will vanish and its secrets won’t be revealed.

“We may not see this it again for two or three decades, depending on when we get another prolonged dry spell like this,” Murphy concluded. ♦ Dave Lewis

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An Education in Restoration https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/an-education-in-restoration/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/an-education-in-restoration/#respond Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:55:36 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=37547 Read more..]]> Over 70 volunteers took part in a three-day training course in County Clare in August to learn methods of preserving historic ruins. The program – the first of its kind – was hosted by the Irish branch of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Clare County Council, and the Killinaboy Heritage and History Group.

The main site of the project was Killinaboy’s An Cabhail Mhór (The Great Ruin), a ruined castle that was a homestead of the Blood family in the 1600s. Volunteers were taught, among other things, how to reinforce the structure’s walls using hot-lime mortar, and “soft” wall capping, which decreases water damage by applying a mixture of local clay and plants, and a hands-on lesson in medieval craft, including joinery (frame-building) and roof-thatching.

Architectural Conservation Officer and archaeologist Risteard UaCroinin, who helped orchestrate the program and gave a presentation on architectural history in the region, said “plans are already afoot to make this an annual event.” ♦

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The Great Famine Online https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/the-great-famine-online/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/the-great-famine-online/#comments Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:50:32 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=37564 Read more..]]> University College Cork, and the Irish Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht, collaborated to create the Great Irish Famine Online. The project displays detailed information on the famine’s effects and enables users to visually analyze pre-and post-famine statistics for their locality, charting changes in the human and social landscape across Ireland.

The database is comprised of over ­­­twenty categories, from population to education, for all civil parishes and towns of Ireland. The mapping of the famine at this level reveals the complex local and regional disparities, which raises questions about the diverse social conditions and relief responses in the various localities. ♦

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