By Colm Power
One date that has a special place in the Irish calendar is 17th March, St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the day when we celebrate the feast of our national apostle and it has become the biggest celebration of a national day right across the world.
Wherever the Irish went, they made a distinguished contribution to almost every aspect of life in the land of their adoption, and it is not surprising, therefore, that so many countries underline this special date in green.
n Patrick Bronte, who was born in Drumballyroney, Co. Down, on 17th March, 1777, was the father of the famous writers Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, and of Branwell Bronte, his only son. Patrick changed his name from Brunty to Bronte. He died at the age of 84 in 1861, having outlived his wife by forty years and his six children.
n Charles James Patrick Mahon, also known as the O’Gorman Mahon, was born in Ennis, Co. Clare, on 17th March, 1800, and had an extraordinary life as an Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary. After travelling the world, Mahon became a founding member of the Home Rule League. He was a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, and he won the 1887 Carlow by-election at the age of 87. He was the oldest M.P. in the House of Commons, still in office at the time of his death.
n Thomas Maclear, who was born on 17th March, 1794, in Newtownstewart, Co. Tyrone, trained to be a medical doctor, but he made a career of astronomy. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of astronomers, and was appointed Royal Astronomer in South Africa. He worked closely with John Herschel, who was carrying out surveys of the southern sky. David Livingstone, the famous African explorer, was a close friend. Maclear received a knighthood for his work as an astronomer. The town of Maclear, Eastern Cape, and Cape Maclear are named after him.
n General Patrick Edward Connor, born in Co. Kerry on 17th March, 1820, was a Union General during the American Civil War. Connor discovered valuable mineral wealth and became known as the ‘Father of Mining’ in Utah. He founded a city named Stockton in Utah. After the Civil War, Connor made his permanent residence in Salt Lake City, where he established one of the city’s first newspapers.
n Patrick Augustine Sheehan, widely-known as Canon Sheehan, was born on 17th March, 1852, in Mallow. As well as being a well-loved priest, he became one of Ireland’s most popular. He was ministering in Doneraile, Co. Cork, when he wrote his most successful novel ‘My New Curate’, which was published in 1899.