seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Sinking of the MV Princess Victoria

mv-princess-victoriaMV Princess Victoria, one of the earliest roll-on/roll-off ferries, sinks on January 31, 1953, in the North Channel during a severe European windstorm with the loss of 133 lives. It is then the deadliest maritime disaster in United Kingdom waters since World War II.

Princess Victoria is built in 1947 by William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton. She is the first purpose-built ferry of her kind to operate in British coastal waters and could hold 1,500 passengers plus cargo and had sleeping accommodations for 54.

Captained by James Ferguson, the vessel leaves Stranraer‘s railway loading pier at 7:45 AM on January 31, 1953 with 44 tons of cargo, 128 passengers, and 51 crew. Captain Ferguson has served as master on various ferries on the same route for seventeen years. A gale warning is in force but he makes the decision to put to sea. Loch Ryan is a sheltered inlet and the immediate force of the wind and sea is not apparent, but it is noted that spray is breaking over the stern doors. A “guillotine door” has been fitted, because of a previously identified problem with spray and waves hitting the stern doors, but it is rarely used, because it takes too long to raise and lower. This would provide extra protection for the sliding stern doors but on this occasion it is not lowered.

Shortly after clearing the mouth of Loch Ryan, the ship turns west towards Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and exposes her stern to the worst of the high seas. Huge waves damage the low stern doors, allowing water to enter the car deck. The crew struggles to close the doors again but they prove to be too badly damaged and water continues to flood in from the waves. The scuppers do not appear to be allowing the water to drain away. The ship takes a list to starboard and at this point Captain Ferguson decides to retreat to the safety of Loch Ryan by going astern and using the bow rudder. This proves to be impossible, because the extreme conditions prevent the deckhands from releasing the securing pin on the bow rudder. Ferguson then makes a decision to try to reach Northern Ireland by adopting a course which keeps the stern of the craft sheltered from the worst of the elements. At 9:46 AM, two hours after leaving Stranraer, a message is transmitted in Morse code (the Princess Victoria does not have a radio telephone) by radio operator David Broadfoot to the Portpatrick Radio Station: “Hove-to off mouth of Loch Ryan. Vessel not under command. Urgent assistance of tugs required.”

With a list to starboard exacerbated by shifting cargo, water continues to enter the ship. At 10:32 AM an SOS transmission is made, and the order to abandon is given at 2:00 PM. Possibly the first warship in the area is HMS Launceston Castle, commanded by Lt. Cdr J M Cowling, a frigate which is en route to Derry. Searches are carried out but Launceston Castle is forced to leave when her condensers are contaminated by salt. Upon the upgrade of the assistance message to an SOS, the Portpatrick Lifeboat the Jeannie Spiers is dispatched, as is the destroyer HMS Contest. Contest, commanded by Lt. Commander HP Fleming, leaves Rothesay at 11:09 AM but, although she comes close to her position at 1:30 PM, poor visibility prevents the crew from seeing the sinking ship. The destroyer has been trying to maintain a speed of 31 knots to reach the listing ferry but, after sustaining damage from the seas, Captain Fleming is forced to reduce speed to 16 knots.

The Princess Victoria is still reporting her position as 5 miles northwest of Corsewall Point but her engines are still turning and even at the speed of 5 knots are gradually drawing the vessel closer to Northern Ireland and away from her reported position. At 1:08 PM, the ship broadcasts that her engines have stopped. The final morse code message at 1:58 PM reports the ship “on her beam end” five miles east of the Copeland Islands.

The Court of Enquiry into the sinking, held in March 1953 at Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast, finds that the Princess Victoria was lost due to a combination of factors. In a 30,000 page report the enquiry finds that firstly, the stern doors are not sufficiently robust. Secondly, arrangements for clearing water from the car deck are inadequate. The report concludes “If the Princess Victoria had been as staunch as those who manned her, then all would have been well and the disaster averted.” The court also notes the failure of the duty destroyer HMS Tenacious from the 3rd Training Squadron based at HMS Sea Eagle at Londonderry Port to be able to put to sea as too many men had been released on shore leave. As a consequence of the enquiry the duty destroyer from the 3rd Squadron is subsequently based “on station” at the mouth of Lough Foyle on one hour readiness to put to sea.

The wreck lay undiscovered until 1992 when a team from Cromarty Firth Diving, led by John MacKenzie and funded by the BBC, working from data provided by a Royal Navy seabed survey carried out in 1973, are able to locate it five miles north northeast of the Copeland Islands in 90 metres of water. Video footage and stills from this expedition are transmitted on a BBC programme called Home Truths (Things Don’t Happen to Boats Like This) on the 40th anniversary of the sinking in 1993.

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Opening of the National Gallery of Ireland

national-gallery-of-irelandThe National Gallery of Ireland, home of the national collection of Irish and European art, opens on January 30, 1864. It is located in the centre of Dublin with one entrance on Merrion Square, beside Leinster House, and another on Clare Street. The Gallery has an extensive, representative collection of Irish painting and is also notable for its Italian Baroque and Dutch masters painting.

In 1853 an exhibition, the Great Industrial Exhibition, is held on the lawns of Leinster House in Dublin. Among the most popular exhibits is a substantial display of works of art organised and underwritten by the railway magnate William Dargan. The enthusiasm of the visiting crowds demonstrates a public need for art, and it is decided to establish a permanent public art collection as a lasting monument of gratitude to Dargan. The moving spirit behind the proposal is the barrister John Edward Pigot (1822-1871), son of David Richard Pigot, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, and he becomes one of the first Governors of the Gallery. The façade of the National Gallery copies the Natural History building of the National Museum of Ireland which is already planned for the facing flank of Leinster House. The building itself is designed by Francis Fowke, based on early plans by Charles Lanyon.

The Gallery is unlucky not to have been founded around an existing collection, but through diligent and skilful purchase, by the time it opens it has 125 paintings. In 1866 an annual purchase grant is established and by 1891 space is already limited. In 1897, the Dowager Countess of Milltown indicates her intention of donating the contents of Russborough House to the Gallery. This gift includes about 223 paintings, 48 pieces of sculpture, 33 engravings, much silver, furniture, and a library, and prompts construction from 1899 to 1903 of what is now called the Milltown Wing, designed by Thomas Newenham Deane.

At around this time Henry Vaughan leaves 31 watercolours by J.M.W. Turner with the requirement that they can only be exhibited in January, this to protect them from the ill-effects of sunlight. Though modern lighting technology has made this stipulation unnecessary, the Gallery continues to restrict viewing of the Vaughan bequest to January and the exhibition is treated as something of an occasion.

Another substantial bequest comes with the untimely death in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania of Hugh Lane, director of the Gallery since 1914. Not only does he leave a large collection of pictures, he also leaves part of his residual estate and the Lane Fund has continued to contribute to the purchase of art works to this day. In addition to his involvement in the Gallery, Lane has also hoped to found a gallery of modern art, something only realised after his death in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. George Bernard Shaw also makes a substantial bequest, leaving the Gallery a third of royalties of his estate in gratitude for the time he spent there as a youth.

The Gallery is again extended in 1962 with a new wing designed by Frank DuBerry of the Office of Public Works. This opens in 1968 and is now named the Beit Wing. In 1978 the Gallery receives from the government the paintings given to the nation by Chester Beatty and in 1987 the Sweeney bequest brings fourteen works of art including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jack Butler Yeats. The same year the Gallery is once again given some of the contents of Russborough House when Alfred Beit donates 17 masterpieces, including paintings by Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer, and Henry Raeburn.

In the 1990s a lost Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, known through replicas, is discovered hanging in a Jesuit house of studies in Leeson Street in Dublin by Sergio Benedetti, senior conservator of the gallery. The Jesuits generously allow this painting to be exhibited in the Gallery and the discovery is the cause of national excitement. In 1997 Anne Yeats donates sketchbooks by her uncle, Jack Yeats, and the Gallery now includes a Yeats Museum. Denis Mahon, well known art critic, promises the Gallery part of his rich collection and eight paintings from his promised bequest are on permanent display, including Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Rembrandt.

The collection currently contains about 14,000 artworks, including approximately 2,500 oil paintings, 5,000 drawings, 5,000 prints, and some sculpture, furniture, and other works of art.


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Birth of Broadcaster Pat Kenny

pat-kennyPatrick “Pat” Kenny, veteran Irish broadcaster, is born in Dublin on January 29, 1948. Kenny currently hosts the daily radio show The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk and the current affairs show Pat Kenny Tonight on TV3.

Kenny is educated at the O’Connell School and obtains a chemical engineering degree from University College Dublin (UCD) in 1969. Subsequently, he is a postgraduate student at Georgia Institute of Technology and then a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin. He begins his broadcasting career in parallel to his academic “day-job” by working as a continuity announcer on RTÉ radio in the mid-1970s. He subsequently becomes a radio disc jockey.

Kenny has a 41 year high-profile career at RTÉ, in which he is their highest paid presenter for several years. He presents the radio show Today with Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1 each weekday morning between 10:00 and midday until 2013. He hosts The Late Late Show from September 1999 until May 2009, however returns as a stand-in host in January 2013. He presents the current affairs programme, The Frontline, each Monday night from 2009 until its cancellation in 2013.

Kenny is the co-host of Eurovision Song Contest 1988, as well as numerous other television shows, including Today Tonight, Saturday Live, and Kenny Live, and works for both RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ 2fm, sometimes simultaneously, in a career that has spanned five decades. He is the holder of a Jacob’s Award and is perennially cited as the highest paid employee in RTÉ’s possession. He is named 23rd most influential person of 2009 by the magazine Village.


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Death of William Butler Yeats

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, dies on January 28, 1939, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France.

Yeats is born in Sandymount, County Dublin, on June 13, 1865, the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trains as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland as well.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandoned art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson, and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Kathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Around that time, Yeats helps found the Irish National Theatre Society with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge, serving as its president and co-director. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre, and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son William Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, Yeats is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). Yeats passes away on January 28, 1939, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.

In September 1948, Yeats’ body is moved to Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette LÉ Macha.


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Birth of Brian Downey, Founder & Drummer of Thin Lizzy

brian-downeyBrian Michael Downey, Irish drummer best known as the drummer and a founding member of the rock band Thin Lizzy, is born in Dublin on January 27, 1951. Along with Phil Lynott, Downey is the only constant member of the hard rock group until their break-up in 1983. Downey also co-writes several Thin Lizzy songs. Allmusic critic Eduardo Rivadavia argues that Downey is “certainly one of the most underrated [rock drummers] of his generation.”

Growing up in Crumlin, Dublin, Downey’s early musical influences come from his father who plays in a local pipe band and loves jazz, and also from his 60’s heroes: The Kinks, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. In his youth, Downey meets friend, co-founder, and bass guitarist Phil Lynott, who attends the same school. Before forming Thin Lizzy, Downey has been in numerous school bands, beginning with The Liffey Beats, Mod Con Cave Dwellers, and briefly The Black Eagles (with Lynott). He moves on to performing in a local band, Sugar Shack, and then is persuaded by Lynott to join him in another band, Orphanage. Upon meeting guitarist Eric Bell, the trio form Thin Lizzy. Although the line-up of musicians within the band changes over the years, with the exception of Lynott, for the next thirteen years Downey remains the only other permanent member of the band, as well as drumming on Lynott’s solo albums.

After Lynott’s death in 1986, Downey plays in the tribute Thin Lizzy line-up with John Sykes, Scott Gorham, Darren Wharton, and Marco Mendoza, but has been absent from subsequent Thin Lizzy touring bands. After John Sykes’ departure from the group in 2009, guitarist Scott Gorham creates another line-up of Thin Lizzy. Downey, Mendoza, and Wharton rejoin, along with two new members: Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell and former vocalist from The Almighty, Ricky Warwick. This version of Thin Lizzy starts an extensive world tour in January 2010 and continues to tour until early 2013, with new permanent guitarist Damon Johnson eventually replacing Richard Fortus. Gorham has stated that the band members are considering recording new material, and this project eventually emerges under the Black Star Riders name, with which Downey chooses not to be involved due to the pressures of consistent touring.

Downey is a guest at the unveiling of Lynott’s statue in 2005, and drums for Gary Moore at the tribute concert that follows. Downey also appears on Moore’s 2007 album, Close As You Get, and subsequent tour.


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Opening Night of “The Playboy of the Western World”

playboy-of-the-western-worldThe Playboy of the Western World, a three-act play written by Irish playwright John Millington Synge, is first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on January 26, 1907. The play is set in Michael James Flaherty’s public house in County Mayo during the early 1900s. It tells the story of Christy Mahon, a young man running away from his farm, claiming he killed his father. The locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his murderous deed, and in fact, Christy’s tale captures the romantic attention of the bar-maid Pegeen Mike, the daughter of Flaherty. The play is best known for its use of the poetic, evocative language of Hiberno-English, heavily influenced by the Irish language, as Synge celebrates the lyrical speech of the Irish.

The Playboy Riots occur during and following the opening performance of the play. The riots are stirred up by Irish nationalists who view the contents of the play as an offence to public morals and an insult against Ireland. The riots take place in Dublin, spreading out from the Abbey Theatre, and are finally quelled by the actions of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The fact that the play is based on a story of apparent patricide also attracts a hostile public reaction. Egged on by nationalists, including Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith, who believe that the theatre is not sufficiently political and describes the play as “a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform,” and with the pretext of a perceived slight on the virtue of Irish womanhood in the line “a drift of females standing in their shifts” (a shift being a female undergarment), a significant portion of the crowd riots, causing the remainder of the play to be acted out in dumbshow. Nevertheless, press opinion soon turns against the rioters and the protests peter out.

Years later, William Butler Yeats declares to rioters against Seán O’Casey‘s pacifist drama The Plough and the Stars, in reference to the Playboy Riots, “You have disgraced yourself again. Is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?”

In the 1965 film Young Cassidy, a riot occurs during a play by the fictitious playwright Cassidy, following which the character W.B. Yeats refers to Synge and speaks similar words, starting with “You have disgraced yourselves again.”

The production of Synge’s play meets with more disturbances in the United States in 1911. On opening night in New York City, hecklers boo, hiss and throw vegetables and stink bombs while men scuffle in the aisles. The company is later arrested in Philadelphia and charged with putting on an immoral performance. The charges are later dismissed.


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Birth of Painter Daniel Maclise

daniel-macliseDaniel Maclise, Irish history, literary and portrait painter, and illustrator, is born in Cork, County Cork, on January 25, 1806. He works in London, England for most of his life.

His early education is of the plainest kind, but he is eager for culture, fond of reading, and anxious to become an artist. He later studies at the Cork School of Art.

Maclise exhibits for the first time at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1829. Gradually he begins to confine himself more exclusively to subject and historical pictures, varied occasionally by portraits – such as those of Lord Campbell, novelist Letitia Landon, Charles Dickens, and other of his literary friends. In 1833, he exhibits two pictures which greatly increase his reputation and, in 1835, the Chivalric Vow of the Ladies and the Peacock procure his election as associate of the Academy, of which he becomes full member in 1840. The years that follow are occupied with a long series of figure pictures, deriving their subjects from history and tradition and from the works of William Shakespeare, Oliver Goldsmith, and Alain-René Lesage.

Maclise also designs illustrations for several of Dickens’s Christmas books and other works. Between the years 1830 and 1836 he contributes to Fraser’s Magazine, under the pseudonym of Alfred Croquis, a remarkable series of portraits of the literary and other celebrities of the time – character studies, etched or lithographed in outline, and touched more or less with the emphasis of the caricaturist, which are afterwards published as the Maclise Portrait Gallery (1871). During the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament in London in 1834–1850 by Charles Barry, Maclise is commissioned in 1846 to paint murals in the House of Lords on such subjects as Justice and Chivalry.

In 1858, Maclise commences one of the two great monumental works of his life, The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher, on the walls of the Palace of Westminster. It is begun in fresco, a process which proves unmanageable. The artist wishes to resign the task, but, encouraged by Prince Albert, he studies in Berlin the new method of water-glass painting, and carries out the subject and its companion, The Death of Nelson, in that medium, completing the latter painting in 1864.

marriageaoifestrongbowMaclise’s vast painting of The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife (1854) hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. It portrays the marriage of the main Norman conqueror of Ireland “Strongbow” to the daughter of his Gaelic ally. By the grand staircase of Halifax Town Hall, which is completed in 1863, there is a wall painting by Maclise.

The intense application which he gives to these great historic works, and various circumstances connected with the commission, has a serious effect on Maclise’s health. He begins to shun the company in which he formerly delighted, his old buoyancy of spirits is gone, and in 1865, when the presidency of the Royal Academy is offered to him he declines the honour. He dies of acute pneumonia on April 25, 1870 at his home 4 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London.

(Pictured lower right: The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife)