seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.

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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers has campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict as former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill meets secretly with Childers at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by world leaders including the Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Northern Ireland Falls Under Direct Rule from Westminster

Northern Ireland is brought under direct rule from Westminster on May 29, 1974 following the collapse of Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing assembly the previous day.

The power-sharing assembly’s leader, Brian Faulkner, and fellow members resign on May 28. The collapse follows a seven-day general strike organised by militant unionists opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement. Over the week leading up to the collapse industrial production comes to a halt with power cuts of up to eighteen hours. Rubbish is not collected and there are reports that undertakers refuse to bury the dead.

In 1973, the British Government under Edward Heath held talks at Sunningdale in Berkshire with the government of the Irish Republic and three political parties – the Official Unionists led by Faulkner, the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and the non-sectarian Alliance Party. They agree to set up a power-sharing executive for Northern Ireland and, eventually, a Council of Ireland involving the Republic with limited jurisdiction over issues of joint concern between north and south.

The declaration also recognises the wishes of unionists to remain within the United Kingdom and nationalists for a united Ireland. Both sides agreed the will of the majority should be respected. But hardline loyalists, led by Harry West, Ian Paisley and William Craig, do not attend most of the talks at Sunningdale, and when the proposals are announced, they criticise them strongly.

The new executive formally comes into power on January 1, 1974 but soon runs into trouble. Anti-power sharing unionists do their best to disrupt proceedings and eighteen members including Paisley are forcibly removed by the police.

In February, a general election sees Labour returned to power in Westminster and eleven of the twelve seats in Northern Ireland won by unionists opposed to the deal under the umbrella of the United Ulster Unionist Council. Of those supporting the executive, only Gerry Fitt is elected as the UUUC wins more than 50% of the vote.

With the Sunningdale executive teetering on the edge, the coup de grâce is delivered by the loyalist Ulster Workers’ Council, which organises a seven-day strike after the assembly approves the agreement in the week prior to the collapse of the power-sharing assembly. Devolved government is not re-established in Northern Ireland until 1998.

(Pictured: Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) strike outside the Northern Ireland Parliament Buildings, commonly known as Stormont)


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Death of Rose Maud Young, Writer & Scholar

Rose Maud Young (Irish: Róis Ní Ógáin), writer, scholar and collector of Irish songs, best known for her work to preserve the Irish language, dies on May 28, 1947 in Cushendun, County Antrim.

Young is born in Galgorm Castle, Ballymena, County Antrim, daughter and seventh of twelve children born to Grace Charlotte Savage, and John Young who is a prosperous unionist and high sheriff. Despite his position he is a believer in tenant rights. Her younger sister is the writer Ella Young and her brother Willie Young is secretary of the Ulster Unionist League.

Young is educated by governesses until 1884 before completing training as a teacher through Cambridge University. Young also attends Gaelic League classes in 1903 in London while visiting her sister who is living in the city at the time. After visiting the Bodleian Library she becomes committed to the study of the Irish language.

In the early 1900s Young returns to Ireland and continues her study of the Irish language in Belfast at Seán Ó Catháin‘s Irish College and in County Donegal at Coláiste Uladh in Gort an Choirce. Young also stays in Dublin and becomes friends with members of the Gaelic League and meets Margaret Dobbs. Young works with Dobbs on the Feis na nGleann (The Glens Festival), a gathering dedicated to the Irish language.

Young is not involved in nationalism though she is strongly supportive of creating and maintaining a sense of “Irishness” through language and culture. She is also a friend and patron of Roger Casement. She also works with Ellen O’Brien and contributes to O’Brien’s book, The Gaelic Church. She keeps meticulous diaries and becomes interested in Rathlin Island and the Gaelic spoken there.

Rose Young is buried in the Presbyterian churchyard at Ahoghill, County Antrim.


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Death of Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair, the King of Connacht

Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair, the King of Connacht and youngest son of the Irish High King Tairrdelbach mac Ruaidri Ua Conchobair, dies on May 27, 1224. This finally opens the way for the Norman occupation of Connacht.

Ua Conchobair is born in 1153 and serves as King of Connacht from 1189 to 1199, and is re-inaugurated on the stone at Clonalis about 1201, reigning until 1224. He first succeeds his elder half brother Ruaidri‘s son Conchobar Máenmaige Ua Conchobair as ruler of Connacht. Conchobar Máenmaige’s son Cathal Carrach Ua Conchobair then rules from 1199 to 1202, with Cathal Crobhdearg back in power from then.

From his base west of the River Shannon he is forced to deal with the Norman invaders. He is a competent leader despite problems, avoiding major conflicts and winning minor skirmishes. Ua Conchobair attempts to make the best of the new situation with Ireland divided between Norman and Gaelic rulers. His long reign is perhaps a sign of relative success. He is the subject, as Cáhal Mór of the Wine Red Hand, of the poem A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century by the 19th-century Irish nationalist James Clarence Mangan.

Ua Conchobair founds Ballintubber Abbey in 1216, and is succeeded by his son, Aedh Ua Conchobair. His wife, Mor Ní Briain, is a daughter of King Domnall Mór Ua Briain of Thomond, dies in 1218.

In 1224 Ua Conchobair writes to Henry III as Lord of Ireland, asking that his son and heir Od (Aedh) be granted all of Connacht, in particular those parts, Kingdom of Breifne, owned by William Gorm de Lacy.

An account of Ua Conchobair’s inauguration has been preserved, written down by Donogh Bacach Ó Maolconaire, the son of O’Connor’s very inaugurator Tanaide Ó Maolconaire, who is also his historian.

(Pictured: Ruins of the 12th century Cistercian Knockmoy Abbey which contains the burial site of King Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair)


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Birth of Mickey Devine, Founding Member of the INLA

Michael James “Mickey” Devine, a founding member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), is born in Derry, County Londonderry, on May 26, 1954. He dies in prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

Devine, also known as “Red Mickey” because of his red hair, is born into a family from the Springtown Camp, Derry, Northern Ireland. In 1960, when he is six years of age, the Devine family including his grandmother, sister Margaret and parents Patrick and Elizabeth, move to the then newly built Creggan estate to the north of Derry city centre. He is educated at Holy Child Primary School and St. Joseph’s Secondary School, both in the Creggan.

After British soldiers shoot and kill two unarmed civilians, Dessie Beattie and Raymond Cusack, Devine joins the James Connolly Republican Club in Derry in July 1971. Bloody Sunday has a deep impact on him. In the early 1970s, Devine joins the Irish Labour Party and Young Socialists.

Devine helps found the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1975. In 1976, after an arms raid in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, he is arrested in Northern Ireland. He is convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He joins the blanket protest before joining the hunger strike.

Devine participates in a brief hunger strike in 1980, which is called off without fatalities. However, on June 22, 1981, Devine joins the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze Prison. He dies on August 20, the tenth and last of the hunger strikers to die.


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Birth of Cillian Murphy, Stage & Screen Actor

Cillian Murphy, actor of stage and screen, is born in Douglas, County Cork, on May 25, 1976.

Since making his debut in his home country in the late 1990s, Murphy has also become a presence in British and American cinemas noted by critics for his performances in many independent and mainstream films. He is best known as Jim in 28 Days Later (2002), the Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–12), Jackson Rippner in Red Eye (2005), Robert Capa in Sunshine (2007), Robert Fischer in Inception (2010) and Thomas Shelby in the BBC series Peaky Blinders.

Murphy begins his performing career as a rock musician. After turning down a record deal, he makes his professional acting debut in the play Disco Pigs in 1996. While continuing with stage work he also begins appearing in independent films, first coming to international attention in 2002 as the hero of Danny Boyle‘s post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later. Murphy’s profile continues to grow in 2005 when he appears in a series of successful films including as the Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan‘s 2005 blockbuster Batman Begins, a role he reprises in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and in the action-thriller Red Eye (2005). For his performance as a transgender woman in Breakfast on Pluto (2005), Murphy receives a Golden Globe award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

In 2006, Murphy plays the lead role in Ken Loach‘s Palme d’Or-winning film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. He teams up again with Boyle for the science-fiction film Sunshine (2007), and with Nolan for the highly successful thriller Inception (2010). Since 2013, Murphy has played the lead in the BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders. He continues to work on stage, and wins the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for Misterman in 2011.

In 2011 Murphy becomes patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway. He is closely associated with the work of Professor Pat Dolan Director UCFRC and UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement.

Murphy lives with his wife, Yvonne McGuinness, and two children in Monkstown, County Dublin.