Tag Archives: Politics

Martin Luther King in a Donegal living room

Stone of Hope Memorial

Stone of Hope Memorial to Martin Luther King, Washington D.C.

In August 1963, when I was 15 years of age, I was running to do something in the kitchen. (We tended to run in those days instead of walking!) Passing by the open living room door where my father was watching the news on television, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the rousing words ‘I.. HAVE… A DREAM ‘.I was aware that there were ongoing civil rights issues in the USA at that time, and the name Martin Luther King was familiar. I had not however ever heard him speak before and I was riveted to the spot.

mlk

Martin Luther King Jnr at the Civil Rights Demonstration in Washington DC on August 28 1963

This was Martin Luther King, the voice of Black America, delivering a speech in which the spoken word became a servant of his cause. It was beamed across the world and affected the lives on many of the millions who watched, including myself, a teenager in County Donegal, Ireland.

It has been revealed in a book, Behind the Dream, by Clarence Jones, a close associate of King,  that when he was delivering the speech a singer who had performed earlier in the programme called out ‘tell them about the dream Martin, tell them about the dream.’  King put his speech to one side and so the ‘I have a dream’ part of this speech was not scripted, but was delivered spontaneously  and from the heart with raw emotion.

Martin Luther King was  assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee  on this day 45 years ago,  April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old. His messages of justice and equality, his rhetoric and his inspiration live on, resonating across the decades.  He delivered many memorable speeches, but it is ‘I have a Dream‘ that made him a household name across the world.

MLk memorial

One of the inscriptions on the wall at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C. These words are from his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964

This is the full text  of ‘I have a Dream‘ delivered at the march on Washington, DC, August 28, 1963.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

References:

http://www.nobelprize.org

http://www.nps.gov (Memorial Pictures)

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Filed under Life in the 1960s, Oral History, Public Speaking, Social Change, Social Justice

Remembering

Today, Remembrance Sunday, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) attended Remembrance services in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today too,  the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins will attend the annual commemoration of the War Dead at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Many ‘ordinary’ people of Ireland are passionate about NOT commemorating this day, in some cases probably because of a lack of understanding of the social conditions at the time,that compelled Irish men and boys in their tens of thousands to go to war.  It is true that after the conflict, many families  were ashamed of relatives returning from the War, but as this article in yesterday’s Irish Times demonstrates, things are changing. Those who had been ‘airbrushed’ out of Irish family history are now being honoured and remembered with pride.

The wearing of a Poppy in Ireland remains controversial in 2012 as demonstrated by this article from The Irish Independent on the reaction to a Poppy wearer in the streets of Dublin .  The reaction of the Chelsea Football supporter in this item is interesting  – sadly he probably verbalized what many think in private.   Why can we not treat the wearing of a Poppy as a memory of men  who died in awful circumstances, and not as a symbol of British Imperialism?

I recently discovered the website of the Limerick Branch of the Royal British Legion on which they have displayed a new Irish Poppy badge – a poppy overlaid on a shamrock. It’s a truly beautiful emblem and having worn it for the past few days myself, it has elicited a very positive response. I have no doubt that it will become a popular emblem for those who wish to commemorate the sacrifices of people from this island who put themselves in harm’s way in the most horrific circumstances. They deserve to be remembered.

The badge can be ordered here

Last year I attended a Conference in Ennis that resulted in the following  blog post – which I reprint here in tribute and in memory of all those who died .

A Poppy for Claremen,Munstermen and Irishmen

On Saturday October 1st 2011 at the Clare Roots Genealogy and Family History Conference, historian Liam Curran delivered what was to me a fascinating presentation on ‘The Irish Soldier in the British Army in the First World War’. Liam presented an account of the horrors of war that featured real people, including members of his own family, who lived and loved not far from where I now live; real people who died in the most horrific of circumstances  – sons, brothers, uncles, fathers.

During that presentation we saw a very famous painting entitled ‘The Last Absolution of the Munsters’ by the war artist, Matania.

 

On Saturday evening the 8th May 1915, prior to the battle in the Aubers Ridge area, the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers marched through Rue du Bois, about one mile out from the town of Neuve Chapelle in Belgium. The Battalion halted near a wayside shrine. Moving off the road they formed up in their respective Companies, ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. In front of each Company was a green flag with the Irish Harp and word “Munster” embroidered on it’

Most if not all the men depicted here are from Munster. The priest on horseback who gave a general absolution to these men was Francis Gleeson, one of 13 children from Templemore, Co Tipperary. On the extreme right is Regimental Sergeant Major John Ring born in Bandon. Also here are many men from Clare. The second mounted figure is 40-year old Colonel Victor Rickard, husband of Louise Moore from Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, whose father founded the  Cork Historical and Archaeological Society and was a Protestant Home Ruler. She herself wrote articles for the Cork Examiner Newspaper.

At dawn on 9th May, just hours  after the general absolution, these Irish men came out of their trenches. Within hours, 151 of them lay dead, including the Commanding Officer Rickard, and 16 men from Clare.

Just one of a number of Irish Regiments, the Munster Fusiliers consisted in the main of Munster men – mainly from Clare, Kerry, Cork and Tipperary. They fought and died in their hundreds in various areas of conflict during their long history including Afghanistan 1839,  Burma 1852,  The Crimea, the Boer War. It is reckoned that about a quarter of a million Irish men were involved in the First World War. They endured the horror of the killing fields of the Western Front, often cold and often hungry, surrounded by the stench of death, hearing the screams of the dying, with rats eating their feet. They were slaughtered, drowned and maimed in Gallipoli and in many places whose names they could not pronounce.

Text from Fr Gleeson’s Diary entry 10 May 1915 as inscribed at the Messines Irish Peace Park.

Growing up and educated in Ireland in the 1960s, I was never aware of the tens of thousands of our countrymen who fought and died in horrific conditions in many theatres of war down the centuries. These people had effectively been wiped from the history that we were taught in schools, wiped from our national memory, wiped from our very DNA.

The truth is that most were volunteers.  The truth is that, fired up by calls by Irish Nationalists like John Redmond, who claimed that ‘Ireland’s highest interests’ lay ‘in the speedy and overwhelming victory of England and the Allies’ they volunteered in their droves; the truth is that many went because they needed the money for their families; the truth is that many went because they belonged to large families with low-income and it would be one less mouth to feed. Undoubtedly some also went in search of adventure and perhaps also to escape issues at home.

The First World War was the war in which most Irish lives were lost and in which the Irish performed amazing acts of courage and bravery. However, when the survivors returned they were shunned and met with hostility and even physical violence. The honour with which they had departed was in stark contrast to the changed circumstances when they returned. Ireland had staged an uprising against British rule at Easter 1916 and the Ireland to which they returned was one with a new sense of nationalism and a different set of values.

We in Ireland have come a long way in redressing the airbrushing of our past. President Mary Robinson was the first Irish President to wear a poppy on November 11th each year and President McAleese has kept up her predecessor’s practice of attending the remembrance Sunday services in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  President Mary McAleese also stood shoulder to shoulder with the Queen of England at the opening of the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Mesen (Messines) Belgium on 11 November 1998. We still, however, have a way to go.

Poppy Field on the Somme. Picture from the BBC.

In Flanders Fields – the iconic poem by John McCrae, MD, (1872 – 1918)  Canadian Army.

If ye break faith  with us who die,

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields’

I will not break faith and will proudly wear a red poppy on 11 November 2011 to honour all Claremen, all Munster men, all Irishmen who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Epilogue

Fr. Gleeson volunteered for a second time and returned to parish work in Dublin where he died in 1959. He is buried in Castlelough, Co Tipperary.

Sgt Major John Ring served for 5 years in France and repeatedly refused promotion to stay with his battalion. He retired to Limerick  and died in 1960. He is buried in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery.

References

Royal Munster Fusiliers Association

Royal Munster Fusiliers

http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/Media,3979,en.pdf

Liam Curran’s lecture – which also included an account of the Munsters in Gallipoli, notably those who landed from the steamer ‘River Clyde’ – is available on DVD from Clare Roots here

 

 

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Filed under Family History, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish History, Living in Ireland, Social History Ireland

International Women’s Day 2012:Connecting Girls,Inspiring Futures

A snip from my post of 2011 recalling the history of this truly international event.
The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in March 1911. It had its origins in America a few years earlier where women had come together to protest against poor working conditions, resulting in a National Women’s Day being declared by the Socialist Party of America. Subsequently at an International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen, attended by delegates from 17 countries, and including the first 3 women elected to the Finnish Parliament, a proposal to have a special day each year to focus on women’s issues was met with unanimous approval.

Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark observed the first International Women’s Day in March 1911. More than a million men and women attended rallies in support of women’s right to work, right to vote, right to hold public office. In 1913, Russian women observed International Women’s Day campaigning for peace and in 1914, other European countries joined in.

In 1917, amid great unrest in Russia caused by millions of casualties, terrible food shortages, and with many women removed from farms to work in the factories, International Women’s Day prompted 90,00 workers to strike and the army at Petrograd to revolt. Attempts to end the unrest were not successful and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated some days later. The new provisional government granted universal suffrage with equality for women.

Down the decades, the movement has continued to grow and has become a worldwide event in countries all over the world. In 25 countries it is an official holiday while in China Madagascar and Nepal it is an official holiday for women only. In many countries from Bangladesh to Guinea, from Vietnam to Iceland, from Afghanistan to Zambia, events will take place on March 8th to mark International Women’s Day. The top 5 countries for International Women’s day activity to mark the centenary on March 8th are the UK, Canada, Australia, the United States and Ireland.

International Women’s Day has evolved into a global day of celebration of the achievements of women, socially, politically, and economically. Women’s rights campaigners highlight inequalities and raise money for Charity and   Celebrities the world over associate themselves with the day.

So girls,why not find an event near you and join in the wonderful celebration!

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Social Justice, Suffrage

Death of an Irishman

Just a few days ago, the state senate of  Rhode Island in the United States of America passed a resolution by 33 votes to 3 calling for the state Governor to pardon John Gordon, an Irish immigrant hanged in 1845  for the murder of a powerful local mill owner.

Amasa Sprague was a successful mill owner in Knightsville, Rhode Island. The Sprague family was powerful and influential,with a brother William a United States Senator.

The textile plant provided employment for many immigrants who flocked to the locality throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The immigrants, many of them Irish, were disliked by the Protestant ruling classes, not least because of their religion and because many of the earlier settlers who had arrived before the Famine refugees, had set up good businesses.

Nicholas Gordon had  established a local store, having arrived from Ireland in the mid 1830s. The county from which he emigrated is not known. His business was doing well and he sent for the remainder of his family, including his mother Ellen,and three brothers William, John and Robert who arrived in 1843. Nicholas held a licence permitting the sale of alcohol.  Amasa Sprague was concerned that his workers were partaking of alcohol that was interfering with their productivity. He and Nicholas Gordon clashed about this, but eventually Sprague used his influence to have the alcohol licence revoked.

Also at this time, there was political unrest in Rhode Island. A movement led by Thomas Dorr sought to extend suffrage to all white men and not the small number of wealthy property owners who had the vote.  There was unrest in May 1843 with Dorr and his mainly poor Irish immigrant supporters on one side and the conservative ruling class, the Law and Order Party  on the other. The unrest lasted several weeks, the Dorr rebellion was put down and, with the help of Amasa Sprague, Thomas Dorr was imprisoned.

When Amasa Sprague was beaten to death on December 31st 1843, suspicion fell on both the followers of Dorr and on the Gordon family. Both  had apparent reason to dislike Sprague. Eventually however, 3 of the  Gordon brothers were arrested. John and William stood trial in April 1844, with Nicholas Gordon’s trial set for later. Leading the defence was a supporter of  Dorr’s movement, paid for by donations from the large immigrant Irish population. The prosecution was led by the Attorney General, leader of the Law and Order Party and the case was heard before 4 members of the state Supreme Court.

As widely reported, John Gordon was convicted of the murder of Sprague in a trial that was full of prejudice against the Irish and against catholics. The jury, as was the case at that time, consisted of landowners only and they were instructed to ‘give greater weight to Yankee witnesses than Irish witnesses’. The case for the prosecution was based on contradictory and circumstantial evidence. An appeal was heard by the same judges who had presided over the trial and not surprisingly, was rejected.  On February 14th 1845, John Gordon was hanged.  A huge crowd of Irish emigrants from Rhode Island and others from neighbouring states, protesting the verdict, attended his funeral. Sadly, the exact location of his grave is not known.
Nicholas Gordon was eventually released on bail, having been tried twice, each time with a hung jury. He died in debt in 1846. William was found not guilty.

Arguments that John had been wrongly convicted, by reason of  racial and religious  bigotry and circumstantial evidence, began immediately.  Doubts over his conviction led directly to the abolition of the death penalty in Rhode Island, seven years later. Capital punishment was restored some years later, but no one was ever again sentenced to death and it was abolished finally in the 1980s.

The campaign to clear John’s name has run for almost 166 years. Hopefully it is now nearing the end and the last man hanged in Rhode Island will be exonerated.

References

Special Collections Publications paper 12. Accessed DigitalCommons@University of Rhode Island.ons.uri.edu/sc_pubs/12

The Murder of Amasa Sprague

Further Reading

Hoffmann, Charles and TessBrotherly Love: Murder and the Politics of Prejudice in Nineteenth Century Rhode Island. Boston, University of Massachusetts Press,1993.

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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Irish American, Social Justice

Using Your Vote

Today in Ireland we are voting in a general election to elect  people we wish to represent us in the  Dáil.  Voting is something we take for granted.  As citizens of our country,  we are entitled to vote in our parliamentary elections.

That was not always so.  Many readers may be surprised to discover that they were probably personally acquainted with people who did not have the vote in this country, for it was only in 1922 that all citizens over the age of 21 were enfranchised.

From the early 1700’s voting  rights depended on the value of a person’s property holdings and their religion. Certain Protestant property holders with a freehold of 40 shillings (40 shillings = £2 )   were allowed to vote. In 1793 Catholics with a freehold of 40 shillings were included. Then in 1829 all freeholders with a freehold of less than  £10 lost the right to vote. Various reform acts were introduced that extended the eligibility to vote, but it was not until 1918 that  men aged over 21 years  were given the vote in the UK.  (Ireland was a part of the U.K at this time).  Some women over 30 were also given the right to vote at this time, and among those who availed of this franchise was Anna Haslam.  Anna was a Cork born  Quaker and a veteran suffragette aged 89 who, some  40 years earlier had started a women’s suffrage movement. Anna cast her first vote in the 1918 elections.

In 1922 , the Irish Free State constitution extended  the franchise to all citizens over  the age of 21.

As recently as 1967 in Northern Ireland, there were still calls for universal suffrage as the right to vote was still vested in property  ownership, which automatically excluded many poorer people, the majority of whom were catholics.

So  today, when you enter  your Number 1  and perhaps your Number 2  and 3 and 4 and 5 and so on, on  your ballot paper, you might pause to think that a couple of generations ago, you may not have had the privilege.  Your franchise has been hard-won, so use  it well !

You may read more about the amazing  Anna Haslam at this site.

For further reading see :

http://multitext.ucc.ie/d/Suffragette

http://www.progenealogists.com/ireland/freeholders.htm

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Filed under Elections, Right to Vote, Suffrage