Category Archives: Events

Book Launch alert: Soccer in Munster, 1877-1937

I know I’ve been quiet on this blog for some time, but that’s due to the imminent release of my first monograph, and a move of country. Next month, I’ll be celebrating the publication and launch of my monograph, Soccer in Munster: A Social History, 1877-1937published by Cork University Press.

This book is based in part on the work completed for my PhD thesis but also includes material and research first presented in rough form on this blog, which has been an integral part of the formulation of myself as a writer and historian over the past number of years.

So, if you find yourself in Cork this June, I’d love if you could join me at my launch, details of which are below.

Soccer_in_Munster_invite
And, if you’d like a sample of some of what’s coming in the book, you could do worse than visit Irish Garrison Towns blog, pick up the most recent issue of Lookleft (available in Eason’s and other good newsagents), on The42.ie or buy Issue 2 of Póg Mo Goal.

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Filed under Events, Irish History, Nineteenth Century, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Iowa’s first execution: The shameful story of Peg-leg O’Conner

When the state of Iowa is mentioned most people think of rolling prairies, but the history of this part of the ‘American Heartland’ also has an Irish hue to it. In the nineteenth century many Irish worked the coal mines scattered throughout the region which acted as fuel stations for the rapidly spreading railroad network. Even before the railroads stretched across the continent there were important lead mines being worked near the frontier town of Dubuque. Linked to the early history of Dubuque was the story of a Cork-born amputee named Patrick O’Conner who worked in the mines and who happens to be recorded as the first execution in the history of the state of Iowa in 1834.[1] Of course at the time Iowa was neither a state nor did it have the judicial authority to sentence a man to death. So, why exactly was a one-legged Cork miner killed in 1834 in Iowa?

O’Conner’s earliest recorded misfortune occurred travelling to Galena, Illinois on a riverboat. He fractured one of his legs in some unexplained accident and the injury was serious enough that the leg had to be amputated. Some locals in Galena sympathized with O’Conner’s predicament and organized a collection to buy him a wooden leg and to pay the doctor’s bills, but their goodwill soured when O’Conner ‘begun to display a brawling and quarrelsome disposition’.[2] If it is difficult to imagine fighting a peg-legged Corkman, we can at least imagine that this disposition might have resulted from his despondence over the loss of his leg and a probable increase in alcohol consumption either for the pain or the anguish. Perhaps the man had always had a ‘quarrelsome disposition’ that rubbed people the wrong way.

Eventually the townspeople of Galena drove him out of the town after two incidences involving a local merchant named John Brophy. Apparently O’Conner had shot at Brophy through a window and then Brophy said he saw O’Conner intentionally set fire to his own cabin, causing serious damage to the surrounding buildings.[3] It seems O’Conner had some sort of financial difficulties with the store owner, but we have such limited information on the episode the exact details of what happened are somewhat obscured. In 1833 O’Conner fled to the lead mines of Dubuque and entered a partnership with another Irishman, George O’Keaf [sic]. The pair shared a small wooden hut without incident for a year and then on 19 May 1834, in what seems to have been an unfortunate accident, O’Conner shot O’Keaf when he tried to force his way into their locked cabin returning from work.

Another miner who accompanied O’Keaf back to his cabin offers us the only account of what happened and tells us that O’Keaf asked to be let in and O’Conner replied ‘Don’t be in a hurry I’ll open it when I get ready’.[4] A few minutes passed and as it had started to rain O’Keaf tried to enter by breaking the lock on the door and O’Conner shot him. The fatal shooting appears to have been a tragic misunderstanding. O’Conner appears to have mistakenly believed that it was someone from Galena, possibly Brophy, trying to kill him. O’Keaf was a young and popular 22-year-old miner and O’Conner proved spectacularly unrepentant and stubborn. When people arrived on the scene and asked why he had shot him he replied with a glib ‘That is my business’.[5] His stubbornness continued at the impromptu ‘trial’ in Dubuque and when asked to select his counsel said, ‘Faith, and I’ll tind [sic] to my own business’. Later when asked if innocent or guilty he said, ‘I’ll not deny that I shot him, but ye have no laws in the country, and cannot try me’.[6] Legally speaking O’Conner was entirely correct; federal law did not yet extend into the newly acquired territory and the Governor of Missouri rejected any responsibility for the trial saying it should take place in a court that had legal standing in the neighboring state of Illinois. However, in previous cases men sent to trial in Illinois were released because the crime had taken place outside the state’s jurisdiction. This contributed to the decision to unofficially try O’Conner in Iowa where the jury found him guilty.[7]  In this way it seems that O’Conner was sentenced to hang because he served to purpose of advertising to the wider community that Dubuque was a town that would not let the law get in the way of some harsh summary ‘justice’.

The arrival of a priest, Rev. Fitzmaurice, from Galena further ratcheted up the tense atmosphere in the town. He strongly denounced the trial as ‘illegal and unjust [sic]’ after which the sizable Irish Catholic presence in Dubuque ‘became cool on the subject and… intended to take no further part in the matter’.[8] Strangely, even though the account in the Annals of Iowa states that the jury had set the execution for 20 June 1834, commenting on the crowd, it states:

Up to this we did not believe that O’Conner would be executed. It was in the power of the Rev. Mr. Fitzmaurice to save him, and he was anxious to do so. Had he appealed to the people in a courteous manner, and solicited his pardon upon the condition that he would leave the country, we confidently believe that they would have granted it; but he imprudently sought to alienate the feelings of the Irish people from the support of an act of public justice, which they, in common with the people of the mines, had been endeavoring to consummate. This had the effect of closing the avenues to any pardon that the people might have previously been willing to grant (emphasis added).[9]

It is obvious here that the writer of this historical account realized the contradiction in telling the tale of Iowa’s first execution. The sentence was neither legal nor deserved. Why exactly would anyone believe that O’Conner might not be executed after receiving that sentence and, more importantly, why would the tone of the priest’s appeals matter one way or the other? The writer tries to shift the blame from the people involved in the trail to the priest. A direct appeal to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, to clarify whether the townspeople of Dubuque had the right to sentence this man to die returned a response validating O’Conner’s position and stating that the laws of the United States did not yet apply to the new territories. Even this statement did not shift the determination of Dubuque’s leaders to kill O’Conner and the President in his reply perhaps sensed their bloodlust as he ended his letter with the statement that ‘he thought the pardoning power was invested in the power that condemned’, indicating his hope that the people of Dubuque would show mercy.[10]

This was not to be the case though and whether or not poor O’Conner’s Irishness had played a part in his death sentence, it was about to play a part in shortening his life quite dramatically when:

A few days before the execution, a rumor got afloat that a body of two hundred Irishmen were on their way from Mineral Point, intending to rescue O’Conner on the day of execution. Although this report proved not to be founded in truth, it had the effect of placing the fate of O’Conner beyond the pardoning control of any power but force.[11]

An armed mob of townspeople, moved by their enthusiasm for the execution and fearful that their prize might be snatched from their grasp, decided to lynch O’Conner rather than keep him in jail or give him an official trial in another state. As O’Conner was driven in a cart to the gallows the priest consoled him, offering him confession and last rites while the crowd shouted obscenities at the pair. A fife played the ‘Dead March’ and over one thousand spectators watched the hanging, after which a public collection was taken to pay for costs of execution, the coffin, and the burial.[12] Sympathetic contemporary newspapers and historical accounts detail the event and other vigilante lynchings throughout the American West with a thin veil of legality and solemnity in their efforts to legitimise their actions. In reality these executions served dual purposes as both perverse forms of entertainment for some and as a form of intimidation for others.[13]

After the account of the execution of O’Conner in the Annals of Iowa the writer sought to assuage any concerns by ending with the following lines: ‘Immediately after this, many of the reckless and abandoned outlaws, who had congregated at the Dubuque Mines, began to leave for sunnier climes. The gleam of the Bowie knife was no longer seen in the nightly brawls of the street, nor dripped upon the sidewalk the gore of man; but the people began to feel more secure in the enjoyment of life and property.’[14] Strange justification for executing a man because of, what was by all accounts, an accidental shooting. Perhaps the real goal of the execution was to send a strong message to the Irish community, as well as the wider public, that some influential townspeople had the power to execute anyone who committed a crime in their town. It was a lesson that would be repeated against a wide range of ethnic groups throughout the nineteenth century across the vast expanses of the United States.


[1] Eliphalet Price, ‘Trial and Execution of Patrick O’Conner’, Annals of Iowa, (State Historical Society, Iowa City, 1865), Vol. III-V, pp. 566-74.

[2] Ibid. p. 567.

[3] In another of the firsts for Iowa, an Irishman named Nicholas Carroll was apparently the first person to unfurl the Star Spangled Banner in the region in 1834. Ibid. p. 528.

[4] Ibid. p. 568.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. p. 569. The Jury was composed of six Americans, three Irishmen, one English, one French and one Scottish man.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. p. 570. This aspect of O’Conner’s execution tends to be ignored in accounts, for example when the Iowa Recorder detailed the historic event in the run up to the tenth execution in Iowa. See Iowa Recorder, 7 March 1923.

[9] Price, ‘Trial and Execution of Patrick O’Conner’, p. 570.

[10] Ibid. p. 571.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. pp. 572-3.

[13] Regarding a similar incident, Frank Fargo wrote in the Daily Alta California of the Vigilance Committee hanging of James P. Casey in 1856, ‘the whole living throng moved forward with scarcely an audible voice, save that of the officers in command. A solemnity and stillness pervaded the whole party that at once was significant of the might and power in those brave hands’. Frank Fargo, A True and Minute History of the Assassination of James King of William, and the Execution of Casey and Cora (Whitton, San Francisco, 1858); David Goodman, Gold Seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s (Stanford University Press, Stanford), p. 95-6.

[14] Price, ‘Trial and Execution of Patrick O’Conner’. pp. 573-4.

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Filed under Death, Events, Irish History, Labour History, Nineteenth Century, Social History

The Cork International Car Race, May 1937

I have posted here before about early motor racing in Tramore, Waterford, but today I am going to take a quick look at the Cork Car Race, an international motor racing contest that took place in Cork in May 1937.

My interest on this occasion is less to do with the races themselves or how they came about but rather their popular reception and the way in which they were reported on. I encountered this motor race while doing other research in the Cork City Library’s Local Studies Room. I was trawling through the microfilm of the Evening Echo, Cork’s long-running evening daily, when I happened upon the Cork Car Race and the extensive coverage afforded it by the Echo. Two things in particular struck me about the coverage of the race. One was the employment in the newspaper of photographs, cartoons and even the advertisements in the issue of the paper covering the Race.

Photographs of the racers in their cars abounded, but more strikingly, there was a cartoon and one particular advertisement that showed perfectly the cross-section between major sporting events of this kind, commercialism and popular entertainment at that time. And so, first to the cartoon:

 

The cartoon depicts a disgruntled fisherman whose weekend leisure has been disrupted by the noise and pageantry of the big event, the Cork Car Race. Clearly, such novel sporting events were not to everyone’s taste!

Secondly, there was this advertisement:

Source: Evening Echo, May 22 1937

Source: Evening Echo, May 22 1937

Anyone who knows Cork, knows that Tanora holds a special place in the hearts of many Cork people. Here we see the company cleverly employing ad copy to capitalise on the novelty of the Cork Car Race. This shows brilliantly the intersection between sport and commercialism that had become so developed in the interwar period (the Evening Echo of this period is equally full of cigarette and drink advertisements showing hurlers, footballers, tennis players and jockeys among other things).[1] It may be the case that the ad was used before or since, but the timing of the ad in this particular edition of the Evening Echo in which about a quarter of the paper was given over to the Cork Car Race is especially remarkable.

As with the races that had taken place earlier in the decade in Tramore, the speed and excitement was the main draw for the many spectators, and the Evening Echo reported crashes and even stories of cars catching fire in great depth, the crash of Bira (Birabongse Bhanudej), Prince of Siam, being of special interest. Most of the scrapes were fairly tame in reality, however one driver from England, Cyril Mervyn White, who only weeks previously had come inside the top 10 in a race in Britain in his Bugatti, ended up in the Mercy Hospital following a crash during a time trial and later died from his injuries.[2]

The race was a major international event, the second of its kind in Cork, even  being the subject of a British Pathé newsreel. The race would only run one more year, in 1938, but as can be seen from these images of 1937, the Cork International Car Race was not just an exciting (or if you fancied a quiet spot of fishing, excruciating) experience, but was ripe too for commercial exploitation by local firms such as mineral water bottlers like John Daly.


[1] For a discussion of the various aspects of sport and commercialism see Collins, Tony, Sport in Capitalist Society: A Short History, London, New York: Routledge 2013; see also Collins, Tony, and Vamplew, Wray, Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol, Oxford: Berg, 2002

[2] Evening Echo, May 22 1937; May 26 1937

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Filed under Events, Social History, Sports History, Twentieth Century

Book Launch: The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918

 

borg

I am pleased to announce the launch of John Borgonovo’s latest book, The Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918 (Cork University Press). John has been a friend of The Dustbin of History since its inception, and his previous works the critically acclaimed Spies, Informers and the Anti-Sinn Féin Society: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1919-1921 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006) and The Battle for Cork: July-August 1922 (Cork: Mercier, 2011) based on years of painstaking research have offered  penetrating insights into Cork in the revolutionary period. His work has become an important facet of the ongoing historiographical debate concerning the IRA and violence at this time.  This book is set to add significantly to our understanding of the dynamics of the revolution and violence in Cork by exploring its origins in the effect of the First World War on Irish society.

The book will be launched by Professor Gearoid Ó Tuathaigh on

Thursday 23 May 2013

at 6pm 

in

The Aula Maxima

University College Cork

Drinks will be served

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