Today In History – Irish America Irish America Magazine Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 Striking Gold – Transcontinental Railroad Turns 150 Fri, 10 May 2019 22:43:00 +0000 Read more..]]> Irish contributions to American history received a special recognition this week. The 150th anniversary of connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad was commemorated in a two-day celebration in Utah May 9 and 10 at Promontory Point, the state landmark where the Golden Spike connecting the track’s east and west branches was struck on May 10, 1869. The railroad was six years in the making, with the physical labor conducted largely by immigrants – Irishmen making up a hefty portion.

The Last Spike, Thomas Hill, 1881.

Irish Ambassador to the United States Dan Mulhall was a special guest at the commemoration, which honored specifically the manual workers that constructed the railway, with the Irish contribution numbering approximately 10,000 men. These laborers often risked life and limb in this back-breaking endeavor to advance American transportation, symbolically binding the nation even closer than before the horrific devastation of the Civil War, in which many of the Irish men had fought for the Union.

“Theirs was a magnificent contribution to the making of modern America,” said Ambassador Mulhall. “Those railroad workers were drawn from the six million Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic between 1840 and 1900, escaping from famine and seeking better lives for themselves and their families. They and their descendants became part of the fabric of modern America, but they never forgot their ancestral Irish homeland. Their achievements in America have been a perennial source of inspiration to the Ireland they left behind,” he said.

The Hibernian Society of Utah hosted a dinner for the occasion on Thursday evening, at which Ambassador Mulhall offered his remarks and honored the contributions and sacrifices made by the Irish and other workers, including Chinese immigrants, Native Americans, Mormons who had settled in the west, and African Americans in their first years of emancipation.

The ambassador toasted the laborers, whose efforts were a significant step in making a fiercely intimidating and dangerous land mass traversable, and brought the country closer together in both travel and communication, investing their personal ambitions in the foreign land where they had come to make them a reality.

Golden Spike, preserved at the California State Railroad Museum. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The iconic railway’s first spikes were driven in 1863 during the Civil War, and over the following six-year period, more than 2,000 miles of track was laid entirely by hand over rugged terrain, including the Sierra Nevada mountains. The iconic railway was constructed by two separate companies: the Union Pacific company moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific company moving east from Sacramento to meet in the middle. The arduous labor earned an average of $3.00 / day for a single worker – an unfathomably low rate by today’s standards. But that certainly did not undercut the enthusiasm of each side – both groups worked tirelessly to beat each other’s record for track-laying.

The Central Pacific concocted a plan to lay 10 miles in a day. Eight Irish tracklayers put down 3,520 rails, while other workers laid 25,800 ties and drove 28,160 spikes in a single day: April 28, 1869. Less than two weeks later, at Promontory Summit, Utah, the golden spike was hammered into the final tie.  ♦

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August 1 Mon, 01 Aug 2011 03:00:31 +0000 Read more..]]> Officially known in the Celtic calendar as Lughnasa and the first day of Autumn, August 1st marks the celebration of the old Celtic god Lugh. Gaelic tradition holds that Lughnasa was a common time for handfastings, or trial marriages of the time. It is believed that Lugh chose August 1st as the day for a harvest festival as a way of remembering his dead foster-mother. Today, people in Ireland continue to celebrate the festival by having bonfires and dancing while gathered with families and friends, much like the U.S.’s 4th of July.

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July 25 Mon, 25 Jul 2011 03:00:24 +0000 Read more..]]> July 25th marks the feast of St. James in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Dubliners celebrate this day by holding an annual drinking festival, which has been a tradition since the medieval era. Likewise, Irish pilgrims who choose to honor St. James and walk the Santiago de Compostela in Spain, often leave from St. James’s Gate in Dublin, where the Guinness factory is fittingly located.

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May 23, 2011 Mon, 23 May 2011 03:01:35 +0000 Read more..]]> American President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle landed in Ireland on the first day of a six-day European tour. He met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and then President Mary McAleese, before visiting relatives in the village of Moneygall, Co. Offaly, form where his great-great-great grandfather Folmouth Kearney left in 1850 at the age of 19. He drank a pint of Guinness, as did his wife, in Ollie Hayes pub. Obama also gave a speech in College Green, Dublin to a crowd of 25,000, and planted a tree in Phoenix Park.

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May 17, 2011 Tue, 17 May 2011 03:00:40 +0000 Read more..]]> Queen Elizabeth of England visits the Republic of Ireland for the first time. She is the first British monarch to visit in 100 years, and the first since Ireland became a Republic. George V visited in 1911 when the country was still part of the British Empire. The four-day visit went well, despite minor protests. Her Majesty met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, visited the Garden of Remembrance, which is dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom, dined with President Mary McAleese and even visited the Guinness Brewery where she declined a sip of the black stuff.

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February 6, 2011 Sun, 06 Feb 2011 05:00:26 +0000 Read more..]]> Gary Moore, world renowned guitarist most well known for his career with Thin Lizzy, died on this day in Spain. Moore was born in Belfast on April 5th, 1952. As a young boy listening to Elvis Presley and The Beatles, he quickly became interested in music. His ear for the blues developed in the mid-60s after seeing Hendrix in concert. It was not long before other guitarists noticed his talent, and as a teenager he was mentored by Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green. He toured briefly with Thin Lizzy and joined the band as a full member playing on the ‘Black Rose’ album in 1978. In later years, Moore worked as a solo guitarist and produced several solo albums.

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February 4, 2011 Fri, 04 Feb 2011 05:00:19 +0000 Read more..]]> First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson stated that February 4 of 2011 marked a ‘new era’ in Belfast’s history after Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall paid the first ever Royal visit to a Catholic Church in Northern Ireland. The Prince of Wales went to see the £3.5 million restoration project at St. Malachy’s Church and met with churchgoers and representatives from parish groups, including the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and St. Malachy’s Primary School. Just fifteen years ago, this visit would have been near impossible.

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June 15, 2010 Tue, 15 Jun 2010 03:00:04 +0000 Read more..]]> Just before the publication of the Saville Report, the inquiry into Derry’s 1972 Bloody Sunday, British Prime Minister David Cameron makes a speech at Westminster Abbey in which he says that the event was “unjustified and unjustifiable.” Cameron also apologizes on behalf of the British government. On this same day, thousands of people gather at the memorial and march to Guildhall, where Cameron’s speech is televised.

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January 22, 2010 Fri, 22 Jan 2010 00:00:25 +0000 Read more..]]> On the night of January 22nd, 2010 Irish-American comedian Conan O’Brien hosted the legendary Tonight Show for the last time. His departure followed fierce negotiations with network NBC’s move to push she Tonight Show’s long-held start time of 11:35 p.m. to 12:05 a.m. to create an earlier slot for a half-hour show with O’Brien’s predecessor Jay Leno. After talks and outcry from O’Brien’s many fans, NBC struck a deal with the comedian, which reportedly granted him $30 million in exchange for leaving the show. On March 1st, 2010 Leno resumed the role of host. O’Brien, who was born to an Irish Catholic family outside of Boston in 1963 and had had a long career in comedy, now hosts Conan, his own late-night show, on TBS.

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December 4, 2009 Fri, 04 Dec 2009 05:00:36 +0000 Read more..]]> Liam Clancy of The Clancy Brothers passed away on this day in 2009 at the age of 74. Liam was the youngest and last surviving member of the famous folk group. Liam’s membership in the group was essential. He was considered their best singer. Bob Dylan once called him the greatest ballad singer ever. Liam and The Clancy Brothers were very famous in both Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S., selling out Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall.

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