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


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Birth of Ewart Milne, Irish Poet

ewart-milneEwart Milne, Irish poet, is born in Dublin on May 25, 1903, He describes himself on various book jackets as “a sailor before the mast, ambulance driver and courier during the Spanish Civil War, a land worker and estate manager in England during and after World War II” and also “an enthusiast for lost causes – national, political, social and merely human.”

Milne is born of English and Welsh-Irish parents and is educated at Christchurch Cathedral Grammar School. In 1920 he signs on as a seaman and works on boats, off and on, until 1935. During the 1930s he begins writing and has his first poems published in 1935.

The background to the Spanish Civil War contributes to Milne’s political awakening and he comes to England to work as a voluntary administrator for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee in London, for whom he often acts as a medical courier. He also was once unwillingly involved in an arms deal while visiting Spain on their behalf.

After Spanish Medical Aid Committee is wound up, Milne returns to Ireland but remains politically active in support of the campaign for the release of Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column of Irish volunteers on the Republican side, who had been captured and imprisoned in Spain. At one point he takes part in a delegation to Westminster seeking Labour Party support for this. In August 1938 he is reported in The Worker’s Republic as being one of the twelve member committee of the James Connolly Irish club in London.

During his time in England and Spain, Milne gets to know the left-leaning poets who support the Republican cause, including W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. In 1938 his first collection of poems, Forty North Fifty West, is published in Dublin, followed by two others in 1940 and 1941. Having taken a pro-British line in neutral Ireland, he is informed by Karl Petersen, the German press attaché in Dublin, that he is on the Nazi death list. This convinces him to help in the British war effort and he returns to England with the help of John Betjeman, then working at the British embassy in Ireland.

Between 1942–1962 Milne is resident in England and an active presence on the English literary scene. In particular he becomes associated with the poets grouped around the magazine Nine, edited by Peter Russell and Ian Fletcher. He and his wife Thelma also back the young Irish poet Patrick Galvin when he launches his own magazine, Chanticleer. This generous encouragement of younger writers is later extended to several others, including John F. Deane, Gerald Dawe and Maurice Scully.

Milne regards his return to Dublin in 1962 as a disaster, as his four-year stay is overshadowed by quarrels with the establishment, the discovery of betrayal by a friend and the death of his wife from lung cancer. The misery of those events is recorded in Time Stopped (1967). The artistic frustration of the time also results in the poems included in Cantata Under Orion (1976). Returning to England in 1966, he settles in Bedford. Politically he remains involved and speaks alongside Auberon Waugh at the rally on behalf of Biafra in 1968, but his views move further to the right in later years. He writes to The Irish Times on April 13, 1976, saying that he has been “taken in by Stalin and that Leninism is Satanism.” He also sides with the Loyalist position in the Ulster conflict. He dies in Bedford of a heart attack on January 14, 1987.

Milne is twice married, first to Kathleen Ida Bradner in 1927, by whom he has two sons; then in 1948 to Thelma Dobson, by whom he has two more sons.

(Pictured: A portrait of Ewart Milne by Cecil F. Salkkeld, as it appears in Milne’s book Forty North Fifty West)


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Lambert Simnel Crowned King of England as Edward VI

lambert-simnelLambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretender to the throne of England, is crowned King of England as Edward VI in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on May 24, 1487.

Simnel is born around 1477. His real name is not known and contemporary records call him John, not Lambert, and even his surname is suspect. Different sources have different claims of his parentage but he is most definitely of humble origin. At the age of about ten, he is taken as a pupil by an Oxford-trained priest named Richard Simon who apparently decides to become a kingmaker. He tutors the boy in courtly manners and contemporaries describe the boy as handsome. He is taught the necessary etiquette and is well educated by Simon.

Simon notices a striking resemblance between Lambert and the sons of Edward IV, so he initially intends to present Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, son of King Edward IV, the younger of the vanished Princes in the Tower. However, when he hears rumours (at the time false) that the Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick has died during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, he changes his mind. The real Warwick is a boy of about the same age, having been born in 1475, and has a claim to the throne as the son of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV’s executed brother.

Simon spreads a rumour that Warwick has actually escaped from the Tower and is under his guardianship. He gains some support from Yorkists. He takes Simnel to Ireland where there is still support for the Yorkist cause, and presents him to the head of the Irish government, Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Lord Deputy of Ireland. Kildare is willing to support the story and invade England to overthrow King Henry. Simnel is paraded through the streets, carried on the shoulders of “the tallest man of the time,” an individual called D’Arcy of Platten.

On May 24, 1487, Simnel is crowned in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin as King Edward VI. He is about 10 years old. Lord Kildare collects an army of Irish soldiers under the command of his younger brother, Thomas FitzGerald of Laccagh.

John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, formerly the designated successor of his uncle, the late King Richard III, joins the conspiracy against Henry VII. He flees to Burgundy, where Warwick’s aunt Margaret of York, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, keeps her court. Lincoln claims that he has taken part in young Warwick’s supposed escape. He also meets Francis Lovell, 1st Viscount Lovell, who had supported a failed Yorkist uprising in 1486. Margaret collects 2,000 Flemish mercenaries and ships them to Ireland under the command of Martin Schwartz, a noted military leader of the time. They arrive in Ireland on May 5. King Henry is informed of this and begins to gather troops.

Simnel’s army, mainly Flemish and Irish troops, lands on Piel Island in the Furness area of Lancashire on June 5, 1487 and are joined by some English supporters. However, most local nobles, with the exception of Sir Thomas Broughton, do not join them. They clash with the King’s army on June 16 at the Battle of Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire, and are defeated. Lincoln and Thomas FitzGerald are killed. Lovell goes missing and there are rumours that he has escaped to Scotland with Sir Thomas Broughton and hidden to avoid retribution. Simons avoids execution due to his priestly status, but is imprisoned for life. Kildare, who had remained in Ireland, is pardoned.

King Henry pardons young Simnel, probably because he recognises that Simnel had merely been a puppet in the hands of adults, and puts him to work in the royal kitchen as a spit-turner. When he grows older, he becomes a falconer. Almost no information about his later life is known. He dies some time between 1525 and 1535. He seems to have married, as he is probably the father of Richard Simnel, a canon of St. Osyth’s Priory in Essex during the reign of Henry VIII.


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Birth of Singer Jimmy McShane

jimmy-mcshaneJames Harry McShane, Irish singer best known as the front man of Italian band Baltimora that had the hit song “Tarzan Boy,” is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on May 23, 1957.

McShane learns at a young age to play bass and guitar. As a teenager, he is allegedly shunned by his family after they learn of his homosexuality. Later as a young man in the late 1970s, he leaves Northern Ireland to study at a stage school in London, where he learns to dance, sing and recite.

Hired as a stage dancer and backing singer, McShane soon goes around Europe with Dee D. Jackson and her band. During a visit to Italy with the band, he is attracted to the country’s underground dance scene, which leads to him settling in Milan in 1984. He tells Dick Clark on American Bandstand in 1986 that he fell in love with Italy from that moment. He also learns the Italian language.

McShane makes his debut playing in small clubs in his hometown and is presented to various audiences, without success. In view of his low artistic success, he decides to work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the Red Cross until he meets Italian record producer and keyboardist Maurizio Bassi, with whom he creates Baltimora. The act finds success with its most popular single, “Tarzan Boy”, released in 1985.

In the United States, McShane is overwhelmed with the success of “Tarzan Boy”. Some sources state lead vocals are performed by Maurizio Bassi, the group’s keyboardist, with McShane actually providing the backing vocals. This still remains uncertain, and McShane lip synchs while appearing in the “Tarzan Boy” music video, and not Bassi. Both the music and the lyrics of Baltimora are written mostly by Bassi and Naimy Hackett, though McShane writes the lyrics to some of their songs, such as the single “Survivor in Love.”

After the release of “Survivor in Love,” with no label support for a follow-up album and due to its poor success, Bassi decides it is time to move on to other projects and Baltimora disbands.

The single “Tarzan Boy” bounces back into the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1993 as a remix, climbing to No. 51, at the time of its appearance in a Listerine commercial. The song is also featured in the films Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) and is then referenced in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

McShane is diagnosed with AIDS in Milan in 1994. A few months later he returns to Northern Ireland to spend his final year, and dies in his native Derry on March 29, 1995 at the age of 37. A family spokesman issues the following statement after his death: “He faced his illness with courage and died with great dignity.” In the centre of Derry, a commemorative plaque is bestowed upon the grave of McShane and his father, who had died three years prior.


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Michael D. Higgins Meets Pope Francis in Rome

michael-higgins-and-pope-francisPresident Michael D. Higgins discusses a range of issues including climate change, migration and the need to achieve social cohesion during a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome on May 22, 2017.

The meeting comes two days before Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, where the potential for disagreement is high as Trump has clashed with the pontiff on migrants and expressed skepticism about man-made impact on the environment. The meeting with President Higgins, however, is much more congenial as both leaders are very much on the same page.

Higgins is given the traditional welcome for visiting heads of state to the Vatican. He is walked through the frescoed rooms of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace by men dressed in white tie and is then introduced to Pope Francis for their meeting, which lasts fifteen minutes.

Higgins’ visit comes six months after outgoing Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a papal audience after which he confirmed the Pope would be coming to Ireland in 2018. While their discussions take place behind closed doors, it is likely that Higgins once again extends the invitation for Pope Francis to visit the country. The Pope ultimately visits Ireland August 25-26 as part of the World Meeting of Families 2018.

At the end of a seemingly warm and friendly encounter, Higgins presents the Pope a “climate bell” designed by renowned citizen-artist Vivienne Roche and is meant to represent a call to action on protecting the planet. “This is a very important symbol” the president tells the Pope before briefly ringing the bell.

For his part, the Pope presents Higgins with his landmark encyclical on climate change, Laudato si’, and his two apostolic exhortations, Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia. He also presents the President with a medallion designed to represent the saying from Isaiah 32:15 which states “the desert will become a fertile ground.”

The audience takes place inside the Vatican Library with the use of an interpreter. Higgins, who has spent some time living in Latin America, concludes the meeting in the Pope’s native language, saying “muchos gracias.”


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Birth of Writer James Plunkett Kelly

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, Irish writer who writes under the pseudonym of James Plunkett, is born in Dublin on May 21, 1920.

Plunkett is the son of a World War I veteran who was a member of James Larkin‘s Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which had a life-long impact on the young writer. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He works as a clerk in the Dublin Gas Company and later joins the trade union movement, serving under Larkin between 1946 and 1947.

Plunkett grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personae of his oeuvre. His best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the lockout of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. He is a member of Aosdána.

Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home at the age of 83 on May 28, 2003. A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in his honour.


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Bill Clinton Begins Four Day Irish Visit

clinton-guildhall-squareFormer U.S. president Bill Clinton begins a four-day visit to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on May 20, 2001 to try to advance the peace process. He spends time both north and south of the border, fulfilling engagements in Belfast, Derry, Enniskillen and Dublin.

Clinton’s goal is to use his influence to try to enhance the electoral fortunes of the parties that support the Good Friday Agreement, particularly David Trimble‘s Ulster Unionist Party, who are under pressure from Ian Paisley‘s anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Clinton arrives at Farranfore Airport, County Kerry, before heading to a round of golf at Ballybunion Golf Club with the former Irish deputy prime minister and Labour Party leader Dick Spring. He spends the night at Dromoland Castle, County Clare, before two days of public engagements in Dublin.

Trimble has vowed to quit as head of the Stormont Executive, where his party shares power with Sinn Féin, if the Irish Republican Party (IRA) has not started to get rid of its guns by July 1. Paisley, however, has accused Trimble and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of breaking their promises to the people of Northern Ireland by allowing into government a party linked to a terrorist group, without prior arms decommissioning.

While Clinton is no longer the most powerful man in the world, his charisma and his past efforts to keep the peace process moving are still appreciated by many. He receives Northern Ireland political leaders countless times at the White House and gives support and encouragement by phone during difficult periods of the peace talks.

Clinton delivers a lecture at Trinity College Dublin and attends a gala for peace and reconciliation at Dublin Castle, before travelling to Derry and then on to Belfast, where he receives an honorary degree from the former peace talks chairman George Mitchell, now chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.

The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), John Hume, who welcomes Clinton to Derry, says the former president has done a great deal of good for all the people of Ireland. But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy leader, Peter Robinson, claims that Clinton and Blair could have a negative effect on Trimble’s campaign. “As a unionist, I wouldn’t like to be sitting next to either of them just before an election,” he said. “Blair’s name is associated with the now-broken pledges he wrote on a board here just before the [Good Friday agreement] referendum, so for him to come over and moralise now won’t do much good. And Clinton is so disgraced and powerless that, while he might prop up the nationalist SDLP and Sinn Féin vote, he’ll have no impact on unionists voters.”

(Pictured: Bill Clinton and SDLP leader John Hume at public address at Guildhall Square in Derry. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Chelsea Clinton are in the second row.)


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Birth of Irish Republican Joe Cahill

joe-cahillJoe Cahill, a prominent figure in the Irish Republican movement in Northern Ireland and former Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on May 19, 1920.

Cahill is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School. At age 14 he leaves school to assist in his father’s print shop. Soon after, he joins the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which campaigns on social issues with a focus on eradicating moneylenders from working-class areas of Belfast, as they often charge usurious interest rates. At the age of seventeen, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, a republican-orientated Scouting movement. Na Fianna Eireann is regarded as the “Junior Irish Republican Army.”

Cahill joins the local Clonard-based ‘C’ Company of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in 1938. Four years later, during an anniversary march by the IRA for the Easter Rising, he gets into a shootout with five other IRA men against four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. Several men are wounded and Constable Patrick Murphy is killed. Cahill and four of the other men spend time in prison in Belfast. The IRA declares a formal ceasefire in 1945. Afterwards, republican prisoners begin to be released. Cahill is released in October 1949.

The IRA launches a new campaign in 1956. The IRA border campaign attacks ten targets in six counties, damaging bridges, courthouses and border roads. By 1957, three RUC officers and seven republicans have been killed during the campaign. Cahill is arrested and interned in January 1957 with several other republicans. He is released from internment in April 1961. Following his release from prison, he is disappointed at the direction of the IRA and resigns from the organisation around 1962.

In 1969, Cahill is a key figure in the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his time in the Provisional IRA, he helps import weapons and raise financial support. He serves as the chief of staff in 1972, but is arrested the following year when a ship importing weapons was intercepted.

After his release, Cahill continues to serve on the IRA Army Council and leads all financial dealings for Sinn Féin. In the 1990s, the IRA and Sinn Féin begin to work on seeking peace. Cahill serves on the council that calls a cessation on July 21, 1996. He attends several of the talks that finally lead to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. Shortly after the agreement is made, he resigns as treasurer of Sinn Féin. To honour his service, he is made honorary Sinn Féin Vice-President for life. He serves the Republican movement in Ireland all his life, as one of the longest-serving political activists in Ireland of any political party.

Cahill dies at age 84 in Belfast on July 23, 2004. He had been diagnosed with asbestosis, which he probably developed while working at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in his twenties. He and several other former shipyard workers later sue the company for their exposure to the dangerous substances but only win minimal compensation.