Taoiseach Sean Lemass – Colonel John Burke

June 23: TODAY in Irish History:

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Taoiseach Sean Lemass


Snippets of Irish History by Conor Cunneen IrishmanSpeaks 

Conor is a Chicago based Motivational Humorous Business Speaker, Author and History buff.

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1914: Colonel John Burke

Death of Dunmanway, Co. Cork born US Army Colonel John Burke. The Irish have a fine heritage and history in the US military including some like John King who is a two time recipient of the Medal of Honor. John Burke did not exactly fit that mould. He was courtmartialled following the Battle of Antietam for alleged cowardice. The facts are somewhat sketchy but the website Antietam on the web reports:

“It is not certain where Col Burke was during the battle on September 17th. LCol Fowler reported that “after the first advance [17 Sept] from the meadow upon the plowed field, the colonel not being present, as a necessity I, without orders, assumed command.”

Apparently, during the brigade’s charge on the Sunken Road, he “fell behind his troops, dismounted, and hid in a ‘fold’ in the ground, perhaps unable to face the enemy fire. Up to Antietam Burke had reportedly been a fine officer called, “a splendid tactician”. The outcome of Burke’s court martial was dismissal from the service”

“During the battle Gen Meagher was incapacitated and, as the senior colonel, Burke assumed command of the brigade for the remainder of September 17, and later was charged with abandoning his regiment during the fight.”




1959: Taoiseach Sean Lemass

Sean Lemass becomes Taoiseach following the election of Eamonn De Valera as President of Ireland. Lemass would bring elements of modern international thinking and economics to a nation bedevilled by De Valera’s isolationist and anti-English thinking. His partnership in economic affairs with Sean T. Whitaker is seen by many as the start of modern Ireland. In 1396, Lemass visited the White House and met with JFK.

In 1965 Lemass met the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (Terence O’Neill) meet for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1922. It was a truly historic meeting that began a thaw in relations between the two states. The meeting at Stormont Castle of two distrustful parties was so momentous and prone to disruption that it was not announced prior to the event. The meeting evoked generally positive reaction in the Republic but caused major problems for O’Neill. While moderate unionists supported talks on non-constitutional issues such as co-operation on tourism, the meeting did not sit well with Protestant fundamentalist like Rev. Ian Paisley who saw it as the start of a sell out. O’Neill paid a reciprocal visit to Dublin in February.

Terence O'Neill and Sean Lemass
Terence O’Neill and Sean Lemass

Sean Lemass had a strong republican background. Born in Dublin in 1899, he participated in the 1916 Rising, fighting in the GPO (General Post Office). He was also in the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence. He was arrested in 1920 and interned for a year. He joined with De Valera on the anti-treaty side and was in the Four Courts as second in command at the start of the Civil War.

Lemass was first elected as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South constituency in a by-election on 18 November 1924 and was re-elected at each election until his retirement in 1969. He was a founder-member of Fianna Fáil in 1926, serving in numerous cabinet positions under Eamonn De Valera until he became Taoiseach in 1959.

sean lemass 1924 election

A victorious Sean Lemass 1924 General Election




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This history is written by Irish author, business keynote speaker and award winning humorist IrishmanSpeaks – Conor Cunneen. If you spot any inaccuracies or wish to make a comment, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the comment button.

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